We wanted to make Valentine’s Day special last year and were looking for options for the perfect celebration, when a brilliant idea struck us. NOLA as New Orleans is popularly called, hosts the most magnificent, costumed, beaded, and feathered carnival which is laced with tradition and is all about having a terrific time. Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras (in French) is the well-known and most sought after party in the Southeast United States in New Orleans in the state of Louisiana; and we decided to become a part of that eye-popping and stupefying party. We had heard a lot about the festivity and parades; and I had witnessed a cross-dressing and gay parade back in Rome some years back, so being a part of it for Valentine’s Day became a surefire choice.The magnificent #MardiGras in New Orleans #NOLA Click To Tweet
We booked ourselves at the New Orleans Courtyard Suites Hotel which was just a 7 minute walk from the most happening Bourbon Street. The internet spoke well of this place and after the long drive when we reached there we were not disappointed at all. It is an old French Quarter Cottage converted into a hotel, just 4 minutes away from the famous 31 acre strong Louis Armstrong Park; which was an amazing attraction on its own. But enough about the hotel and back to Fat Tuesday and the fun around it!
Mardi Gras originated in ancient Greece and Rome, when early Christians with Pagan roots feasted and celebrated ahead of the sombre days of Lent. It was in March 1699 that the carnival was celebrated in Louisiana at the mouth of the Mississippi River in what is now lower Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana. Folks back then celebrated it as part of an observance of Catholic practice. In New Orleans, an account dating back to 1730 by Marc-Antione Caillot talks about rejoicing with music and dance, masks and costumes which also included cross-dressing. In the early days, processions in the streets and wearing of masks were sometimes prohibited by law but commenced again whenever such restrictions were lifted. In 1856 six businessmen gathered in New Orleans’s French Quarter to organize a secret society to observe Mardi Gras with a formal parade. They founded New Orleans’ first and oldest krewe (pronounced ‘crew’ is a group of revellers who band together to host the Mardi Gras ball), the Mystick Krewe of Comus. Surprisingly, Comus was aggressively English in its celebration which was always considered a French festival.
Times kept changing and so did the ways in which Mardi Gras was celebrated. Many a times, war, economic, political, and weather conditions led to cancellation of some or all major parades, especially during the American Civil War, World War I and World War II. And yet, the city of New Orleans always managed to celebrate the Carnival. In 1972 the large parades went through the narrow streets of the city’s French Quarter section for the last time due to safety concerns of the Quarter. The major parades now barely skirt the French Quarter along Canal Street.
In 2005, the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina posed the question of the future of the city’s Mardi Gras celebrations. The then government pushed for a scaled back celebration to limit strains on city services. However, many krewes insisted that they wanted to and would be ready to parade, so negotiations between krewe leaders and city officials resulted in a compromise schedule. However, the celebration was scaled back less severely than originally suggested. Such has always been the power of Mardi Gras and the dazzling celebration and it continues with the same fervour to this day!
The official colours of the carnival are purple, gold and green which stand for justice, power and faith. All three colours were used by the Catholic Church throughout history and hence continued to be used for Mardi Gras which was also Catholic in origin. The Carnival season commences on January 6 and is called Twelfth Night. The Twelfth Night Revelers, New Orleans’ second-oldest Krewe, hold a masked ball each year to mark the beginning of the season. Though many of old societies such as the Independent Strikers’ Society hold masked balls but they no longer parade in public. The Mardi Gras season continues through Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday. And that’s when we landed to witness this amazing celebration.
It was a really cold night and we were literally freezing. But the atmosphere was electrifying and so charged that the cold me forgot all about the winter breeze and held Desh’s hand as he led me into the small alley from where the parade was about to begin. People were dressed in their finest best and it was a visual treat to see them enjoy themselves to the fullest. It was truly a fun day. We found a souvenir shop and bought the beads to adorn our necks and keep up with the carnival hopper look all set for fun, frolic, and comic masquerading.
The city was alive and wide and people went out of their way to appear in grotesque, quizzical, diabolic, horrible, strange masks, and disguises. Most of the human bodies were seen with heads of beasts and birds and looked like demi-beasts, demi-fishes, snakes’ heads and bodies with arms of apes; man-bats from the moon; mermaids; satyrs, beggars, monks, and robbers. When the parade began, people marched on foot, on horseback, in wagons, carts, coaches, cars. I think if choppers wuld have been freely available, people wouldn’t leave that route either. They just went up and down the streets, wildly shouting, singing, laughing, drumming, fiddling, and all throwing flour broadcast as they wended their reckless ways.
The celebrations went on till very late in the night. People who had houses on the streets where the parade processions marched on, kept throwing beads, toys and other paraphernalia at the onlookers and party hoppers. Desh and I were also seen trying to catch hold of some of the goodies being thrown our way just for the heck of it. People who were part of the actual parade also kept handing us something or the other. I freaked when a huge half-beast caught hold of me, gave me a big hug and out something on my palm. Gosh! It was the eye of a fish put in a small plastic zip lock bag. I don’t even want to think about how flabbergasted I was, but well; it was all in good faith and part of the festivities. And for us, the night finally ended when I couldn’t take the cold any longer.
Mardi Gras ends in a formal ceremony which is called the ‘Meeting of the Courts,’ where Rex and His Royal Consort, the King and Queen of the Carnival, meet with Comus and his Queen, at the ball of the Mistick Krewe of Comus, New Orleans’ oldest active Carnival organization. The Meeting of the Courts happens at the conclusion of the two groups’ masked balls, which is held at the Marriott Hotel. At the stroke of midnight at the end of Fat Tuesday a mounted squad of the New Orleans Police Officers make a show of clearing the upper Bourbon Street where the bulk of out-of-town revellers flock to party; and formally announce the end of the Carnival since Lent commences with Ash Wednesday. It amazes me to think that the rituals of the Carnival have been maintained to this day in such a sacrosanct manner.
Don’t miss Mardi Gras if you are in New Orleans at that time of the year! You can read all about the festival and the 2016 – New Orleans Mardi Gras Parade Schedule here.
Have you ever experienced Mardi Gras? I would love to hear about it! 🙂
Featured Image Source: Flickr