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Mardi Gras Fun and New Orleans

Many many years ago, when web sites first became available, I created Mardi Gras Fun for all to enjoy. I confess that I let it sit for too long, but am back hard at it now and hope you enjoy this our new version. I did this primarily to share with friends my inside knowledge and experiences about Mardi Gras and New Orleans with freinds.
Mardi Gras is a special celebration of 'Fat Tuesday' where most Christian religions are enjoying historically the last day before the beginning of the Lenten Season. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday the day after Mardi Gras Day. During Lent many refrain from certain pleasures such as smoking, drinking, or eating certain foods so as to prepare for Easter Sunday and the celebration of the resurection of Christ.
Mardi Gras Day is the last day before Lent begins, thus 'a last fling' before going into Lent.

My personal perspective

I was born in 1936. As long as I can recall there was this wonderful season that followed Christmas called Mardi Gras. I vaguely recall being on my father's shoulder in the French Quarter and along Canal Street and uptown where vehicles called floats rolled passed  us with men throwing objects at us. I can still smell the flambeaus   (the kerosene laterns on poles) as they passed by illuminating the area. I recall sparkling glass beads that were thrown from these passing vehicles called floats. (Of course today the glass beads have been replaced with plastic beads) I clearly recall seeing my dad pulling some beads out of his pocket, which I soon learned he'd do from time to time, as he'd not always be lucky enough to have beads thrown his way and he definitely wanted some for his kids. (Today there is so much thrown you have to cover your face or be pulverized.) Yes, this was the 'tooth fairy' and all the other childhood fables rolled into one for local kids. It still is and even better now as they throw not only beads, but footballs, dolls, toys, hats, and an incredible assortment of things that we all grovel for from huge mega floats.
Later, in my high school days Mardi Gras became a social event. What a fun way to have a date and it not cost a dime to participate. I recall riding in one of these parades on a truck that had hay strewn all about and playing with my ukulele and smooching the entire day.. Oh how great those days were.
Then came my military days after high school and being home on leave for one special Mardi Gras. As I recall the parade seemed to pass near the train station. At this location we sailors learned there were many young gals who came by trains to New Orleans to partake of the fun, and boy did they.
Before I knew it I was married with kids of my own to shoulder. Now this truly is the ultimate fun of all having your own kids to show them Mardi Gras fun. Oh how my children loved Mardi Gras! The excitement of chasing the beads and the trinkets that the riders of the Krewes (organizational called riding crews) threw from their floats. Of course there are also the many high stepping bands, marching organizations and Military organizations, grand marshalls and celebreties participating.
About this time there in my history, there was a new object thrown from the floats called doubloons.  It was a coin (usually aluminum) cast with the krewe's insignia and date of the ride embossed on it . These doubloons became the rage. People were scrambling on their hands and knees to pick these small tokens up  that had fallen on the ground. You had to watch out  that no one stepped  on your fingers when you tried to pick one up. My young  son ended with shoe boxes full of them. He also had a huge sorted book from the many different Krewes. (He thought someday they'd be worth a fortune.) Some how he got a large number of these coins involved with heavy clorinated water and they began to oxidize enmass. (What a mess!)
Another great doubloon story I recall was my young daughter on top a high ladder in front of Christ Church Cathedral on St. Charles Avenue one night trying to catch them.. This night a super Krew was passing with their celebrety grandmarshall, Danny Kaye. Danny was tossing these tiny doubloons and incredibly he tossed one her way (she was a good distance away) and she caught it. Of course this was no mega sweepstakes win but for her it was just as wonderful a moment.
Mardi Gras has paraded virtually every year with a few exceptions such as during War times and in the 1970s when  there was a New Orleans Police Department  strike - however, most of the krewes   moved their parades to Jefferson Parish  where the strike wasn't a factor.


Mardi Gras Day Picnic fun

In the 60s and 70s we began partaking in the Mardi Gras Day festivities. Sometimes on a beautiful spring day, Mardi Gras, is no doubt the 'greatest picnic' one could ever attend.  Of course some aren't so great weather wise.  People gather all around you to stake out their plots on the parkways with their chairs, ice chests and BBQ pits.
Talk about meeting folks you never have known! I mean folks from all over the city, from all walks of life and from many different life styles. I have made lifelong friends at these Mardi Gras day events. I also have been able  to meet many of my children's friends that otherwise I might never have met . Same holds true of friend's   friends.
Our sole purpose on this one day is to enjoy life. The competitiveness for the beads and loot thrown from the floats is fierce, yet paradoxily fun. Often  those that do the catching become Santa Claus while sharing their catch  with the less fortunate.  Kids go home with bags overflowing with this stuff. Believe me, it's just an incredible day in one's life. What a way to do a picnic. I'd urge you to find a local to help you share Mardi Gras Day, as it is a learned experience over many years.
All around you are people in costumes. Oh what fun it is to see the many Disney characters and pirates, and moss people, political satire and on and on. If you are a creative person, this is truly your day. Many of these people spend a good part of their year creating these costumes. Seeing a family with Mom and Dad and the children all dressed alike really catches the eye. Many groups organize their themes and come up with some highly imaginable outfits.
So far, I've not even mentioned the parade themes. Virtually all parades have themes - Greek Gods, Movies, Books, etc. There are also many free lance independent marching groups that parade before the real parade. Talk about fun. You will enjoy free music virtually the entire day.


Other Mardi Gras Day Venues

There are all sorts of events taking place on Mardi Gras Day. Besides the family activities on the parkways and in the many suburbs there are the downtown parts of our city with their more adult venues. Downtown and especially in the French Quarter are endless contests and entertainments on the streets. One needs to be open to venture into some of these quarters as what one might see in costumes can be hysterical, incredible and otherwise too. Many feel this isn't the place for children. I believe what you and I might see as adults for the most part goes over the head of the kids. Of course, some of the stuff is truly vile. so you need to use a little prudence and common sense as to where you go. Bourbon Street is so thick with people that I personally prefer to walk on Royal Street, which is one block parallel to Bourbon towards the river.
In thick pickpocketers thrive. As in any major city in the world there are picpocketers and Mardi Gras crowds are prime pickings. Use common sense and protect your personal valuables from their grasp. There are many ways to do this. I prefer to have my wallet in my front pocket. Many ladies use fanny packs. Dealing with the magnitude of these crowds and the end results of having a fun filled day are strictly up to you.


Becoming a bigger part of Mardi Gras Day:

In the early 80s I began taking my recreational vehicle to the parade routes to provide a base for my friends, neighbors and relatives. What a splendid system. Usually the Friday before the Mardi Gras weekend I'd find a nice spot along the boulevard to park my vehicle for the weekend and through to Mardi Gras Day, that next Tuesday. We also had to stake our our territory on the actual parade route. Over the years, because so many did as I, the local Police began creating obstructions to our fun. We still managed to prevail, but with the loss of some ladders, ropes and chairs. Today the spirit is even more competitive and the Police even more deligent - but the fun goes on.
Best is to have a friend with a home on or near the parade route. There are also groups of folks who will rent an apartment for that special day and host a place for their chairs and ladders, plus ice chests and a nice available potty for those in the group. This method is the latest way that my adult children have tanke advantage of for their family fun.
We had a quick learn on how not to fill the vehicles' potty too quickly. One of the tricks was to turn the water pump off so it wasn't flushed unless absolutely needed. Now-a-days the city and suburbs provide porta-poties in multiple locations throughout the parade routes. This definitely is an ease this problem.
Talk about fried chicken, cake, cokes, beer and every thing else in the world. Imagine 200 plus folks and kids visiting you for an event such as this.


Becoming an even bigger part of Mardi Gras:

Next as our children grew into their high school and college years, I was approached by a neighbor who had been riding in a 'super Krewe'   to ride with him .    I decided to give it a one year ride and included my Tulane University student son for this experience.  we ended up riding for 15 years.  Talk about fun!
This super Krewe was the largest and most glitzy one of them all.   It had the most riders and without a doubt threw the most items to the croud of any of the Krewes.   Its  riding position was the most favorable also, as it was the Saturday night prior to Mardi Gras Day. This is because more people from out of town could attend, having that weekend to travel to and from New Orleans . Many people  and college students from outside New Orleans don't enjoy the Mardi Gras holiday schedules (that Monday and Tuesday) that locals do - so they are most likely to attend that Saturday night.
For the average Mardi Gras spectator (of which I'd been all my life ( delete) prior ) being a rider is an incredible undertaking. In our group it wasn't uncommon for one to toss hundreds or thousands of dollars   of items to the audience during our ride. As part of the fee to join the krewes, this helpsshare and cover   the costs of the floats, the tractors, the bands and the extra police detachments. Yes, it's not hard to spend a wad of money being a rider. Our Krewe  had several thousand riders. Mardi Gras might be the greatest free show on earth, but some one is  paying for this fun.
Over the years there have  been efforts to have commercial sponsors ; but so far, for the majority of Mardi Gras - it is totally sponsored by the individual participants.