April 13, 2016
By McKenzie Lee
Large, ornately decorated floats filled with costumed individuals roll down the streets of New Orleans. High school and college marching bands are scattered throughout the parade floats, making sure that the sound of music covers the streets. Flag twirlers and dancing troops often accompany the marching bands, moving their bodies to the sounds of the music. Hundreds of thousands of people line the street to watch the parade and to participate in the magic. This is a small sliver of Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
Mardi Gras marks the last day before the season of Lent begins. Lent is a season that includes 40 days of fasting and spiritual discipline. Many Christians engage in prayer and self-denial in preparation for the death and resurrection of Christ. While Lent is a serious, contemplative season in the church, Mardi Gras represents the last day of celebration. For this reason, many individuals would binge on foods and drinks that they would give up during Lent. And thus Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday”, came to be. In New Orleans, Mardi Gras has come to represent spirited celebrations that occur all across the city. While Mardi Gras is on a Tuesday, many people speak of the couple of weeks leading up to Lent as part of Mardi Gras. In this time, there are an abundance of parades and activities across the city. There are both small parades and large parades.
Some of the smaller parades include parades like ‘tit Rex, Chewbacchus, Barkus, Box of Wine, and the Krewe of Redbeans. ‘tit Rex is a miniature parade in which individuals decorate a shoe box to make it look like a float. They then pull their mini shoe box through the neighborhood. Chewbacchus is a parade that rolls after ‘tit Rex. This parade is made up of a bunch of small groups, known as krewes, who dress up in Star Wars themed costumes and walk around. Barkus is a walking parade in the French Quarter that is made up of dogs, and their owners, all dressed up in costumes. Box of Wine is a small walking parade that rolls in between big parades on St. Charles. Individuals participating in Box of Wine all carry big boxes of wine and they share their wine with all of the people on the parade route. And then there is the Redbeans parade where the costumes are all created out of one of the traditional meals in New Orleans, red beans and rice. At the Redbeans parade, there is a car that is covered in an intricate design of red beans and rice, and then there are groups of people covered in red beans and rice in themes, such as the Wizard of Oz and Star Wars. The Society of St. Anne is another walking parade. This parade meets on Mardi Gras day and is filled with many people in very elaborate costumes. Individuals walking with the parade meander through the French Quarter while dancing to music. The parade ends across from the St. Louis Cathedral on the Mississippi River.
In addition to some of the smaller walking parades, there are many large parades, often with big floats. These parades are known for throwing hundreds of thousands of colorful plastic beaded necklaces to the crowd. Each rider on the float is responsible for paying their dues and for purchasing hundreds, and even thousands, of dollars worth of throws (beaded necklaces, flashing lights, bouncy balls, stuffed animals, and other toys). Many of these parades are also known for something specific that they throw. Nyx is an-female parade that is known for throwing beautifully decorated purses out to the crowd. Muses, the other well-known female parade, is known for throwing out sparkling, glitter-dusted fancy shoes. Zulu, the oldest African American parade, parades on Mardi Gras day and throws hollowed out, painted coconuts to the parade-goers.
Overall, Mardi Gras is a time of the year filled with magic and joy. People from all over the world create their best costumes and then fill the streets of the city to watch the elaborate parades pass by.