Four Things You Might Not Know about Mardi Gras Parades

By Mitch Boersma Published on February 17, 2015

NEW ORLEANS — While Mardi Gras is celebrated around the world, few places are more associated with Fat Tuesday than New Orleans. And yet, most of what those who have never attended think they know about the Crescent City parades is based in myth and misconception.

Here are four things that came as news to this Mardi Gras rookie the first time I made it to the Big Easy:

1. A Season, Not a Day

If you show up in New Orleans today, you would have missed out on almost all of the Mardi Gras festivities and parades. Mardi Gras or Carnival season officially kicks off January 6th, the Christian feast day of the Epiphany. This year, in the 42 days between then and Ash Wednesday, 68 different parades rolled through the streets of Louisiana, most of those in the New Orleans area.

2. It’s Cool to be Krewe

The city of New Orleans doesn’t spend any money putting on the parades. Rather, each parade is organized and paid for by a different Krewe — a social society whose activities center largely around Mardi Gras festivities. Member fees, which for some Krewes run upwards of thousands of dollars a year, cover the cost of the permits, police escorts, trash pick up, etc.,

In fact, all the revelry results in an estimated $500 million cash injection for New Orleans each Mardi Gras season, a blessing indeed for a local economy still rebuilding from the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina.

3. Throw Me Something, Mister!

Krewe members are also responsible for purchasing their own throws to toss from the float, which typically amount to over a thousand pounds per person. Along with beads of every shape and size, throws include all sorts of toys, stuffed animals, and other trinkets.

And not all of it is cheap plastic from China – some of the rarest and most sought-after throws include a painted coconut from the Krewe of Zulu, or an ornately decorated high heel from the Krewe of Muses (an all-female Krewe).

All in all, some 25 million pounds of beads and throws are tossed each year — enough to fill every one of the 72,000 seats in the Superdome with a 350-pound bag of beads.

Mardi Gras Beads

Mardi Gras beads

4. Keep Your Shirt On

Contrary to common conception, nearly all of the Mardi Gras celebrations and parades are family friendly events. This is especially true of the parades that roll in the morning and early afternoon. Homemade stands made from ladders topped with bucket seats line the route to give kids the upper hand in catching throws. Elaborate (and some not-so-elaborate) picnics and cookouts are the norm. It’s basically a three-mile tailgate party where the entertainment comes to you.

Sure, there’s plenty of debauchery afoot if you know where to look, especially as the parades reach their pinnacle on the Saturday and Sunday before Mardi Gras. But as long as you steer clear of Bourbon Street and the French Quarter — which is pretty easy to do since the narrow roads prevent any of the major parades from rolling there anyhow — you don’t have to worry about little Timmy catching a glimpse of Mardi Gras’ most notorious bead catching strategy.


For more information about Mardi Gras, go here.


Mitch Boersma is an Associate Editor of The Stream.

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