Parade Season

On my return journey from Texas, I made a convient stop in New Orleans because it happened to be (the very infamous) MARDI GRAS.

Now, I had heard New Orleans was a pretty rocking town during this holiday. However, my expectations (a drunken festival with ladies flashing their boobs for beads) were surpassed 10-fold.

Mardi Gras is a culturally rich event for the people of New Orleans. Parades are the center piece of the entire holiday. "Parade Season" begins almost a month before the actual Mardi Gras - January 6th. Groups of people form "krewes" that present parades all throughout New Orleans from downtown to the French Quarter. Krewes dress in elaborate, clever costumes and march next to or ride on decorated floats. Most are accompanied by a brass band or music of some sort.

My cousins are in a very traditional krewe that marches with mule pulled floats with each followed by a brass band - this is how its been done for years.

Unfortunately, I was not able to see my cousins' krewe. However, the last five days of Parade Season are when the largest, most embellished parades are run. Luckily, I was there for that. Now, as I said before, I was unprepared for Mardi Gras - my assumptions were completely wrong. I had no idea there even were parades.

Thus, when we went to our first one I was stunned.

The entire street is lined with people. Between the floats there is somewhat of a lull but as soon as one approaches everyone gets there hands up, starts yelling and jumping, hoping to catch the infamous "mardi gras"beads. I was surprised to find out that this is the way 99% of people get their beads on Mardi Gras. As my cousin proudly told me, "a lady never needs to expose herself for beads."

I was also surprised to find out that its not just beads that are throw from the floats. Some throw larger items that are highly coveted by the crowd. The most common "throws" besides beads are cups or strings of beads with a plastic pendant attached. These are decorated with the krewe's logo. People gather so many cups from these parades that they often use them at their homes for parties. Thus, they are lovingly dubbed "Mardi Gras china".

Since the streets get packed, these ladder/seats are a must-have for parents with young kids. The seat holds the little kids high enough to see the floats and, more importantly, puts them in the perfect position for bead snagging! Notice that, in true New Orleans fashion, even the ladders are festively decorated.
Seeing youngsters in there is just adorable.

Now, the parades aren't just about the floats - not even close! Participants get SUPER creative.

Even the music is presented creatively!

Did I mention dancers!? These are the 610 Stompers. Interstate 610 is part of interstate 10 that lies entirely in New Orleans. Thus, the 610 Stompers. These guys preform their dance the ENTIRE parade route. Most performers stop for a break so sometimes they'll just be walking past your stretch of road instead of preforming. The stompers received high praise for their consistent entertainment and were even featured in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2011.

As the night gets darker, floats get brighter.

And these guys come out - the Flambeaus or "torches". In early Mardi Gras, due to lack of electricity, these guys lit the night parades. It is customary to give the Flambeaus money when they pass in order to thank them for lighting the parades.

Even the trees catch some beads. My cousin said, along the parade routes, beads will stay in the trees year round.

The day creates quite a mess but New Orleans has a terrific method of cleaning. First, rakers come and rake everything from the grassy areas onto the street. Then, street cleaners roll through and grab everything. You could drive down a parade route an hour later and it be spotless.

Two thumbs up (and one shocked face) for Mardi Gras Parades! By the end of the night my neck was heavy with beads.