That being said, back to Mardi Gras:
This will be my 16th Carnival season as a resident of New Orleans. Several times each year, I get asked by people who don't know me if I "go to Mardi Gras."
I have a two stock responses for this question:
And so can you.
Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday: This is the day before Ash Wednesday each year, the culmination of the Carnival Season, which begins on Epiphany, January 6th). As Ash Wednesday moves each year in accordance with the date of Easter (which in turn is dictated by the date of the full moon following the vernal equinox, explained very well here), Mardi Gras can fall anywhere from February 3 to March 9.
We good so far?
It’s a shame that so much of the fun and joy of Carnival has been tarnished by the antics and misbehavior of drunken tourists and college students – this celebration is so much more than flashing body parts on Bourbon Street. In fact, most New Orleans residents stay far away from that part of Bourbon Street around this time of year.
Parades: Once upon a time, before the floats outgrew the streets, parades rolled through the French Quarter – my home for most of those 16 years. These days, it’s only a handful of the Walking Krewes that actually parade the Quarter. Painted Maypole provided a great description of the parade atmosphere, which I have inserted here with her blessing:
The floats are fairly interesting, but what sets parades here in New Orleans apart from anywhere else that I know of is the amount of STUFF that they throw… Going to the parades is an event. Often we gather with friends for a party before the parade, then walk to the parade route. We take coolers and food. We deck out in our Mardi Gras finery. Down in the city many families wear costumes.
Now, these parades are sponsored by the founding “krewe” – the organization that recruited members and put up the money to make the magic happen.
Have I lost you yet?
Throws: The scenes broadcast on the Travel Channel often feature beads showering the crowds - what you don't see are the dozens of other marvelous items that are hurles, tossed, lobbed, whatever. The list is seemingly endless - in addition to Beads (and the variety within beads is mind-blowing too - cheap plastic beads, grand ornate beads, oversized blinking beads, rubber ducky beads, body part beads, tiny glass beads, beads with krewe medallions, beads that play music or even speak, and on and on...), you may be so lucky as to catch (or have gingerly handed to you, depending on the object's heft):
Stuffed animals of every variety (Yes, PM, even Sharks!!)
Squishy skull heads
Bespangled shoes (pumps, to be more specific)
Panties (new, usually emblazoned with the krewe logo)
Plastic Dolls, Cigars, Spears, Cups, Frisbees, Crawfish, Alligators, Cockroaches, Hats, Dinosaurs, Swords, Skeletons, etc.
Masking: While I can think of no one who's ever been arrested for violation of this, there is a city ordinance allowing revelers to wear Masks ONLY on Mardi Gras, dawn to dusk, and no other day of the year. There is a long history of international notables coming to New Orleans to Masque, mingling with native and tourist alike in total anonymity. (Brooke Shields, post-Andre Agassi, Isabella Rossellini, Nick Cage, et al.)