Experience NOLA Mardi Gras for the First Time



John Fitzhugh/Biloxi Sun Herald/TNS

Heather Hartel

Every year the week before Ash Wednesday, New Orleans, LA (NOLA) transforms into a wave of purple, gold and green, while the city comes alive with hundreds of thousands of people celebrating Mardi Gras. The name “Mardi Gras” specifically refers to Fat Tuesday, or the day before Ash Wednesday, but parades trample the streets of New Orleans for a week before the final day of celebration. As someone originally from Chicago, seeing the celebration for the first time was simultaneously overwhelming, exciting and magnificent.

What I didn’t know before going to the first few parades is that they are separated by “Krewes,” meaning floats, bands and dance groups all join specific krewes that march on certain days and times throughout the weekend. My favorites were on Saturday, and they were the Krewe of Iris — the first and largest all women’s krewe dating back to 1917 — and the Krewe of Tucks, which was humorously “toilet” themed and decorated the streets with colorful toilet paper as they paraded. The krewes march through uptown and downtown, covering miles of the old New Orleans streets.

Another stereotype-defying realization I had during the weekend at Mardi Gras was just how many beads and other decorative goods the parades pass out. I had heard of the concept of Mardi Gras beads, but didn’t know that every single float throws out beads, scarves, silly headbands, hats and sunglasses to the crowds lining the streets. Waving your hands in the air and catching a handful of beads is a special, childish phenomenon that didn’t get old for the duration of the weekend.

Going further downtown to Bourbon Street is also a must during Mardi Gras. While the street itself is lined with bars, there is plenty to see and do for those under 21 such as Cafe du Monde, famous for its beignets. For those that are over 21, more famous bars to get drinks are Pat O’Briens — famous for a bright red drink named the “Hurricane” and Tropical Isle, known for a “Hand Grenade.” Bourbon Street is also exciting during Mardi Gras, as they have stores that sell unique beads specific to certain krewes, professional sports teams and even universities.

Overall, the weekend at Mardi Gras was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The culture in New Orleans, from the colorful SuperDome to the bead throwing is truly unique to the city.