It's Carnival Time!
January 6th marks Epiphany, and the official start of the carnival season. Carnival lasts until Ash Wednesday, culminating in the huge party that is Mardi Gras.
Despite what you've seen on television, Mardi Gras and the weeks proceeding it are truly a time for family fun. Granted, I would not take my child to Bourbon Street (but I've been on Mardi Gras! It was fun!), but outside of that small area in the French Quarter, there is much to do.
It all begins with the appearance of King Cake everywhere you go. King Cake is a coffee cake (you can get it in the plain cinnamon variety or with various fillings. Cream cheese is my favorite) covered with frosting and colored sugar (purple, green and gold, the official Mardi Gras colors). Hidden within the cake is a tiny plastic baby. The cake is named after the kings who came searching for the baby Jesus, and so finding the baby is designed to remind us that we, too, should be seeking Jesus. Tradition also states that the person who finds the baby has to supply the next king cake.
The parades start immediately. As Mardi Gras grows closer the parades grow more frequent. With a short season, like this year (Mardi Gras is Feb 5th) the parade schedule is pretty packed from the get go. There are the huge parades in the city, pretty good sized ones in the suburbs, boat parades and truck parades, lawnmower parades and parades of kids pulling their wagons through the neighborhood. Everyone loves a parade, yes?
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. We moved here just before Mardi Gras, 2005. We took MQ to her first parade. We were warned that we would get a lot of stuff with a cute little blond girl on her daddy's shoulders. We schooled her in yelling out "Throw me something, Mister!" We took along a bag for our goodies. We walked away from the parade with three bags that weighed more than she did, plus the bottom basket of the stroller loaded. Beads, stuffed animals, moon pies and more were hurled at us from the passing parade. (It gets really dangerous at the St. Patrick's Day parades, when they hurl very large cabbages at your head.)
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.
Every home in the New Orleans area, I imagine, has an attic full of beads and other parade "throws." We have 2 large Rubbermaid containers full of them. MQ likes to take them out and sort them by color. We play parade where she stands on the bed and throws them to me. She lays on the ground and I cover her up them. They are well used beads. We keep one of the bins in the guest room and tell our guests to take however many they want. When we tell them this they usually demur, until they see the huge bin, and we explain that that's a mere half of what we have in the house. Then they fill up their suitcase.
The day before Mardi Gras, Lundi Gras, is a great time to head with your family into the French Quarter. There is free music on the riverfront, street performers, and of course, you have to stop for a beignet.
When I mentioned on Sunday that we decorate for Mardi Gras Beck wanted some pictures. What you have to understand is that nearly EVERYONE down here decorates for Mardi Gras. Not only can you buy stuff in nearly every store, but you get things thrown to you at parades. So... here, a glimpse of the decorations in my house:
The May Queen's playroom is always decorated for Mardi Gras. We bought this poster our first year here, and then bought the cheap feather masks at a souvenir shop in the quarter - 3 for $5. The feather mask and boa were caught at a parade.
Any home with a flagpole out front flies a Mardi Gras flag. I bought this on sale, and fancied it up with beads caught at parades. This Mardi Gras wreath is new this year. May I just say that I love my glue gun? The sign at the top of this post, which hangs just inside my front door, I caught off of a balcony on Bourbon Street last Mardi Gras. It was attached to some beads, and I wore it around all night. And no, I did not flash anything to get it. You do not need to lift your shirt to get beads. Breast showing is for tourists. Stupid tourists. You do see a fair amount of breasts being shown on Bourbon Street, and not just on Mardi Gras.
The Mardi Gras tree. Crazy, I know. Lots of people with fake trees leave them up and decorate them for Mardi Gras. This small tree was our only tree during the toddler years, and now it lives in the playroom during Christmas. But after Christmas the traditional ornaments come off, and it gets decorated with beads and feathers. I use this tree to display the beads we've caught that have medallions from the various Krewes (each parade is hosted by a Krewe, and they have their own special beads they toss) and a few other cool ones we've caught along the way.
After Katrina many people questioned whether New Orleans should even have Mardi Gras. So many people were gone. So many more were suffering. Homeless. But Mardi Gras is a part of this city, just like the music and the food. Mardi Gras restored the strength of so many who were tired and burnt out. Mardi Gras gave them the chance to forget, for just a little while, that they were living in Fema trailers. They ate and danced and costumed and hollered for beads. And then they went back to work (if you are new to this blog, may I recommend that you read my post I Know What It Means to Love New Orleans. It's my love letter to the city, and there are even more Mardi Gras and other N.O. pictures there)
I would invite you all to come and crash on my couch for Mardi Gras, but as we don't have any guests this year we are taking advantage of the week off of school to go to Disney. Yes, the May Queen is thrilled.However, in the spirit of Mardi Gras I think I hear the masses yelling "Throw Me Something, Lady," and so I will. Post a comment and include the name of an official New Orleans (or NO area) Mardi Gras Krewe (no repeats, please). On Friday I will randomly select 3 people who gave me a new Krewe to receive a small box of authentic Mardi Gras beads and other various throws, all caught at parades, as well as a CD of New Orleans music, mixed for you by me, with love. So you can throw your own Mardi Gras parade or party. I may even throw in some recipes for New Orleans food. Mmmm.....
p.s. I'll be taking the day off tomorrow for Day To Read. If I can keep away from the computer, that is. See you on Friday.