“Laissez les bons temps rouler.” Let the good times roll. Among all the other quotes you'll hear about Mardi Gras, this one of Cajun French origin is probably the most famous. And yes, with all that's happening in a Mardi Gras celebration, you best believe the good times and more will definitely roll!
From the colorful decorations and fun traditions down to the ever-famous parade, there's no denying that Mardi Gras is a celebration that deserves a spot on everyone's bucket list. Anyone who's ever attended the fest will probably tell you exactly this and more about the French Quarter's most anticipated event of the year.
Whether you're a fan of historical festivals like the Day of the Dead in Mexico, or a foodie who wants a taste of all the famous Mardi Gras dishes, I'm sure you'll find something that will keep you coming back to the "Greatest Free Show on Earth."
What is Mardi Gras?
The origins of Mardi Gras can be traced back to medieval Europe when French explorers settled into a plot of land near modern-day New Orleans. They established the "Point du Mardi Gras" and "Fort Louis de la Louisiane" within the area and celebrated the first Mardi Gras in the US in 1703.
Though we now know the New Orleans Mardi Gras as the grand revelry that it is today, its beginnings were somewhat simpler in the past. It wasn't until the early 1740s that they began celebrating extravagant balls in the area. These served as the basis of what we now know today as the modern celebration of Mardi Gras.
One key feature of the New Orleans Mardi Gras is the existence of "Krewes," which are the organizations that keep the party going yearly. The krewes take care of significant events like the parades and the formal balls for the carnival season.
What Does Mardi Gras Mean?
In French, Mardi Gras means "Fat Tuesday" or "Shrove Tuesday," which happens on the last Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. It is said to be the last day when people can eat whatever they want and party before the observance of Lent in the Christian world.
You might notice that it coincides with a very similar party that takes place in Venice, Italy. The majestic Venetian Carnival also ends on Shrove Tuesday. Just like the New Orleans Mardi Gras, it's a fun-filled fest with colors, masks, and lots of merry-making!
When is Mardi Gras?
In 2023, the Mardi Gras party falls on the 21st of February. However, parades and other events start as early as the 6th of January with the Krewe of Joan of Arc parade. The official event website released a comprehensive Mardi Gras parade schedule to watch this year, each depicting a different theme or scenario.
Mardi Gras Traditions
There's so much more to the annual celebration than just parades, colorful costumes, and lots of alcohol that you must not miss! Here's a list of things that will make your 2023 Mardi Gras one for the books.
One of the things you should look out for when going to the Mardi Gras is the "throws."
The throws is a tradition started by the Twelfth Night Revelers Krewe and have been in practice since then.
In a nutshell, the throws are an assortment of items ranging from beads, medallions, and more that the members of the krewes toss to the parade-goers as they make their way through the streets.
You sure are lucky if you manage to snag one of these during the fest! Be sure to keep an eye out for the Zulu coconut, which is one of the most prized "throws" you can ever get during the Carnival.
If you're still not familiar with the King Cake, you surely are missing out! This yummy treat and the Mardi Gras Parade go hand in hand. As the story goes, king cakes are associated with Jesus and the Epiphany.
By tradition, each king cake has a tiny toy baby hidden inside, usually a porcelain or gold one. Whoever gets the slice with the baby on it gets to be the "king" or "queen" for the evening.
If you're on the hunt for the best king cake in New Orleans, check out Cannata's King Cakes, the People's Choice Award Winner at the city's King Cake Festival.
Mardi Gras Balls
You know what makes Mardi Gras so much more fun? Getting asked to the ball! Be sure to have your ball gowns and tuxedos ready when invited! The kings and queens of each krewe go all out every year to host a grand ball, usually a private celebration for the krewes.
However, ensure you're dressed to the nines if you get invited to one. These highly anticipated events are just out-of-this-world, complete with the hottest superstars as entertainers for the night.
Even the invites are considered collector's items with their intricate details and colorful designs. Initially, the krewes would even have them cut and printed in Paris. Talk about partying in style!
Dancing Troupes and Marching Clubs
It must be said the dancing troupes and marching clubs make the Mardi Gras celebration all the more delightful. There is a long list of these organizations with their signature styles, costumes, and tricks that add more pizzazz to the party. Spot one, two, or all of them during the parades!
One of the most famous Mardi Gras traditions is the Flambeaux, the flaming torches that light up the parades during the feast. Its origins date to when enslaved people and free men of color would still carry said torches so the crowd could see the parades.
While providing light for the spectators, it eventually became an attraction of its own. The carriers danced with the torches while walking down the street. These days, it has become an essential part of the parades.
It's also a way to pay homage to the men who carried the lights for the audiences to enjoy the show.
Mardi Gras 2023 Tips
Now that you've brushed up on some Mardi Gras history, here are a few tips to make your 2023 Mardi Gras in New Orleans fun!
Wear the Festival Colors
If you want to blend into the festive spirits of New Orleans during the Carnival, remember to be in your best purple, green, or gold costumes! It's said that each color represents a message, with purple being justice, green being faith, and gold as power.
Quite a few stories are floating around about where these colors came from, but one thing's for sure, you get more beads if they catch you wearing any one of these hues! So remember to squeeze in an outfit or two in each color when packing for your New Orleans vacation.
Don't Forget Your Masks
Let's face it, masks bring new fun to any party once you have them on. And Mardi Gras certainly is no stranger to fun party masks! Remember to wear them on Fat Tuesdays when everyone is free to wear theirs as part of this magical celebration.
Book a Mardi Gras Package
It's an exciting experience being in the middle of the Mardi Gras carnival while in the streets, especially since it's free! But if you're looking for a place to rest your feet from all the dancing or gain access to other amenities, consider booking a package.
The official Mardi Gras 2023 website lists packages you can book to add value to your French Quarter trip. Hurry, because they book the slots fast!
Be on Your Best Behavior
It's easy to get carried away by all the happenings, but do note that the Mardi Gras is still considered a family event. Many children and teens will be in the vicinity, so be mindful of your actions and avoid displaying indecent behavior.
Though a bit conservative, you should know that there will be police monitoring the area at all times, and they can arrest people for this!
Always be on the Lookout
It's not an exaggeration to say thousands of people will attend the same event. Always be mindful of your surroundings to ensure your safety, especially when you go out partying at night. Avoid bringing expensive things with you, and make sure you still keep your guard up while having fun.
The organizers also advise people to stay close to the floats as there can be a surge during these parades, which may cause injuries. It's worth noting that running into the street and picking up things like beads and other "throws" is discouraged, too.
Plan Your Perfect Mardi Gras Experience with Pilot
Things can sometimes be confusing with big events like Mardi Gras. To ensure you have the best time while in the French Quarter, it's best to plan your route, including transportation, daily schedule, and more. Good thing there's Pilot to help you with your trip!