Laissez les bon temps rouler! "Let the good times roll" and indulge in the annual riot of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Kicking off in February, this marathon of joie de vivre has everything from live music, costumed revellers and colorful parade floats tossing beads and trinkets into the crowd. The grand finale is known as Fat Tuesday, and this year it falls on February 21.
For Mardi Gras at its best, head to Bourbon Street in the heart of the French Quarter. Here's some tips on how to celebrate like a local, as dozens of parades roll through the streets on a daily basis in the two weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday:
Eat your heart out
Discover why New Orleans is a top destination for foodies at any time of year. There's plenty of affordable down home fare and hole-in-the-wall places where you can line your stomach for the night ahead. Try Central Grocery for an unbeatable muffaletta - a garlic, salami and olive filled sandwich that's a signature snack in this part of the world. Betsy’s Pancake is a good choice for a genuine diner breakfast. And when in doubt, just ask a local.
Bite a baby
Yes, you heard right. But don't stress, we aren't advocating cannibalism. Each year there's a tradition of eatig King'scake, a delicious concoction covered in purple, gold and green icing. Inside is hidden a tiny plastic baby, and whoever gets the baby in their piece of cake has to host the next year's King's Cake party.
Look the part
The best way to blend into the crowd is to dress like a local. And at Mardi Gras time the streets will be awash with purple, green and gold. These colours have great symbolic meaning - purple for justice, green for faith and gold for power.
Worship the fattened calf
Like a story out of pagan ritual, the fattened calf takes pride of place in Mardi Gras parades. During the middle ages, the Lent period that began on Ash Wednesday would signify the commencement of a forty-day fast of meat. So a fattened calf would be the “last supper” of those about to begin their fast. Today you’ll see the Boeuf Gras at the head of the main parade.
If you’re walking around the French Quarter during Mardi Gras, beads are currency for kisses, hugs, and flashes of bare skin. But be wary. Although flashing is generally permitted in the Quarter and on Bourbon Street, family-oriented parades and neighborhoods don’t allow it.
The best way to get beads is to go to a parade and stand within throwing distance of the floats. Each float tosses hundreds of “throws” into the crowds, including beads, toys, noisemakers, costume jewellery and more. You’ll have no problem collecting a bag full of beads by the end of the festivities!
Dance your heart out
There aren't many rules at Mardi Gras, but whatever you do try to avoid crossing a parade. If you simply can't avoid it, don't put your head down and run. Shake those hips and smile! And whatever you do, don't walk in front of a band. Everyone loves to stand out from the crowd but this is not the way to go about it!
Have a ball
Every year, there are several pre-Mardi Gras balls held by various New Orleans social clubs in the lead up to the big event. Think old fashioned Southern debutante balls where young ladies “come out” to society. These grand affairs usually take place after January 6 or Twelfth Night and Krewe balls are a Mardi Gras tradition. Each year, a Mardi Gras Queen is crowned at these festivities. While most balls are invitation only, if you get to know the right people you might find yourself helping to pick the belle of the ball!
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(Photos from Larry Johnson and Mike Saechang by CC License)