Though Mardi Gras Day aka Fat Tuesday isn’t until February 21, 2023, the season actually began on January 6. This means that there’s plenty of time for some Mardi Gras magic with parades and king cake tastings, Carnival exhibits and so much more. People flock to New Orleans in the week leading up to Fat Tuesday, but there’s so much more to experience by coming early. In fact, it may be the best kept secret: visit New Orleans this January or early February, and you’re in for a cool treat!
Some of the best Mardi Gras parades take place well before Fat Tuesday. There’s the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus, a walking parade perfect for science fiction fans and creative minds, on January 28. Or you could check out the adults-only Krewe du Vieux, a raunchy, satirical, and irreverent French Quarter favorite, on February 4. The family-friendly, all-female Krewe of Nefertiti rolls on January 29. Then there’s the adorable miniature floats of ‘tit Rəx on February 5. Find the full parade schedule here, and plan to catch these can’t-miss, early-in-the-season parades.
THE COLORS OF MARDI GRAS
"Every year during Carnival season the question is raised about the significance of the Carnival colors. The true answer has most often been blocked with misinformation. Liberating the truth first raises the question, are we talking about the meaning of the colors purple, green and gold or the origin of the colors? The truth is the meaning can be anything. Through a fluke, Rex, which first proclaimed the colors in 1872 but did not attach a meaning, settled in 1892 for justice, faith and power – 50 year after the colors were announced. Rex borrowed from an earlier parade assigning a meaning to the rainbow of colors, but those were just words from various color association books. They really didn’t mean anything that is significant. Why not borrow from the Louisiana motto of Union, Justice and Confidence? Or from the Boy Scouts’ Trustworthy, Loyal and Helpful? Or in honor of Donald Duck’s nephews; Huey, Dewey and Louie.
On the other hand, if the question is about the origin of the colors you get into some meaningful history. This history provides insight into the minds of the well-educated that were the 19th century men who founded Rex. Disregard what you might have read on king cake boxes or from unknowing websites and publications. Here is the truth, and you need to understand it to appreciate the New Orleans Carnival’s evolution.
The key word here, and a word that has been missing from attempts to solve the colors’ origin, is heraldry. The explanation of it has a few twists, so hang on tight. Dating as far back as the 15th century, the rules of heraldry governed the colors of coats of arms and, hence, flags and banners. In1872, the founding men of Rex, educated and steeped in the romanticism of monarchy, would have been familiar and respectful of heraldry.
According to heraldry, the “fields” in a heraldic device, such as a flag or banner, should consist of “metals” and “colors.” The metals are either silver, represented by white, or gold. Indeed, every national tricolor has either white or gold. So then for one of Rex’s choices the selection was narrowed to two. Should the metal be gold or should it be white? The choice of gold for royalty seemed obvious.
In the days preceding the first Rex parade when the Royal edicts were published, the field, as first mentioned in Edict XII, were stated as being, in this order, green, gold, and purple. Over time the order of the colors would be changed in popular verbal usage, yet when Rex first pronounced them they were in perfect heraldic order.
(The combination of colors does have the extra benefit of looking good together but that is not the reason they were selected. Practically all tricolor symbols with their metal of gold or silver in the center look good together; i.e. red, white and blue.)" (New Orleans Magazine)
MARDI GRAS MASKS
"Masks and costumes have been associated with Shrove Tuesday celebrations for centuries. And even today of the masks commonly seen in New Orleans on Mardi Gras are the same types popularized by the two-to-three-week-long Carnivale in Venice that culminates with Fat Tuesday. But masking and costume-wearing in New Orleans also has a specifically American history, as it was another way for revelers who were officially excluded from the festivities to join in, by concealing their identities. This phenomenon was particularly pronounced during the Jim Crow era of the early 20th century. For example, the African-American men now known as Mardi Gras Indians first paraded down the city’s back streets in Native American costumes, in a nod to Native Americans who took in and protected runaway slaves. Another poignant example, the breaking of the Race and Gender Barriers of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Tradition, can be found in the African-American prostitutes who dressed up as Baby Dolls — a persona chosen because that’s what male clients called them — in hopes that the costumes would help them land work at a time when sex work was racially restricted. Legend has it that the custom of throwing Mardi Gras beads from parade floats started sometime in the 1880s when a man dressed like Santa Claus was cheered when he tossed some beads into the crowds along the parade route. In short order, other Carnival Krewes adopted this popular Mardi Gras tradition. The throwing of beads and fake jewels, from parade floats to those watching down below, is thought to have started in the late 19th century, when a carnival king threw fake strands of gems and rings to his “loyal subjects” sometime in the 1890s. By the early 1920s, one of the Krewes, probably Rex, started regularly throwing strands of glass Czech beads, a precursor to the plastic beads seen today. Other throws — such as doubloons marked with the names of the krewes that make them — followed after." (The Culture of Mardi Gras)
MARDI GRAS BEADS
“Though there’s some debate over the extent to which ancient beads are evidence of advanced syntactical language, the cross-cultural importance of beads goes so far back that much of its meaning has been lost to time. Since antiquity, humans have used beads to reflect cultural identity and social status. Fast forward to today—and today, specifically, being Mardi Gras—and New Orleans is arguably the planet’s most bead-drenched city. (The environmental implications, it seems, are no match for tradition. Mardi Gras has been called the season of madness in New Orleans. The ritual of Mardi Gras has survived Hurricane Katrina, Prohibition, and the Civil War, but its roots go much deeper than that. The earliest Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans, an import from France, date back to the 17th century. The first krewe, the local term to describe the clubs that organize Mardi Gras festivities, was founded in 1858. By around 1870, krewes were throwing trinkets, baubles, and candies to crowds during parades. A decade later, they were throwing medallions.
Beads occupy a paradoxical space at today’s Mardi Gras celebrations. They can be both the centerpiece of festivities and the trimming. They’re prized objects, and yet many strands of beads—or pairs, to use the proper New Orleans lingo—are discarded, metallic snakes left curled in gutters. They’re simultaneously coveted and cast aside. Strands have become longer, in general. Machine-made beads largely replaced hand-strung beads. Glass was replaced with plastic. Opaque plastic medallions gave way to transparent plastic ones. Medallions gradually got bigger and bigger. Most recently, beaded strands for medallions have been swapped out for satin cords. These details all factor into a deeper understanding of a celebration that’s, for all its lunacy, much more complex than it may appear. Mardi Gras beads, to the uninitiated, are just chintzy party favors doomed for the landfill. But they’re also a link to the past, a symbol of a celebration that’s been going on for as long as recorded history.” (The Atlantic)
MARDI GRAS QUOTES
"An American has not seen the United States until he has seen Mardi Gras in New Orleans." — Mark Twain
"There's no place like New Orleans." — Harry Connick Jr.
"You can live in any city in America, but New Orleans is the only city that lives in you." — Chris Rose
"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all. ― Helen Keller
“New Orleans is my essence, my soul, my muse.” — Harry Connick, Jr.
“There are a lot of places I like, but I like New Orleans better.” — Bob Dylan
"New Orleans is unlike any city in America. Its cultural diversity is woven into the food, the music, the architecture — even the local superstitions. It's a sensory experience on all levels and there's a story lurking around every corner." — Unknown
For me, Mardi Gras is always a special time. When I was a kid I lived in New Orleans in the early 1960's. I got to go my first Mardi Gras in New Orleans in 1963 and after that I was never the same!
Within a short amount of time I simply became entranced by the city of New Orleans, it's music, it's food and it's culture. For me, there was no going back...New Orleans became a magical place that has always played a big part in my life over the years.
As I grew up and became a musician, I fell under the spell of New Orleans music. In particular, the sounds of Professor Longhair & Dr. John.
Later on, my love for New Orleans was enhanced when I became a Chef and worked with my wife, Sweet Loretta, in our Cajun / Creole restaurants over the years.
...and so here I am once again
as I find myself totally captivated by Mardi Gras!
STAY TUNED & JOIN US FOR MARDI GRAS WEEK ON
THE ROCK & ROLL IS A STATE OF MIND BLOG
FEB 14th THRU TO FEB 21st
& PUT A LITTLE MAGIC IN YER SOUL WHY'DONCHA!