Where will you be celebrating Mardi Gras this weekend?
Mardi Gras is this coming Tuesday, Feb. 12th and celebrations all over will ramp up this weekend leading up to the big event. There are some people who make their plans months in advance and wouldn't think of celebrating Mardi Gras anywhere else besides New Orleans. There are others who would love to partake in the fun and celebration but think that NOLA is too crowded, too wild and crazy or a bit raucous and risqué for a family with kids. The great news is that there are plenty of other options throughout the south for fantastically fun Mardi Gras celebrations.
First off, a quick primer for anyone who isn't quite sure what Mardi Gras is all about. The phrase "Mardi Gras" is French for "Fat Tuesday." For those who follow Catholic traditions, it is the last day to indulge before Ash Wednesday kicks off the solemn weeks of fasting and restraint of Lent. Also referred to as "Carnival", this fun celebration is recognized around the world and throughout the U.S.
What takes place at a Mardi Gras? While different locales bring their own unique flavor to the celebration, there are certain elements that are sure to be found no matter where you join the party.
You'll most certainly see people wearing all kinds of elaborate costumes. If you're not really into that, at least consider wearing the traditional colors of purple, green and gold, or perhaps a mask (available at most souvenir shops during Mardi Gras season).
The main event of any Mardi Gras celebration is a parade, featuring floats, musicians, and costumed marchers. You will want to arrive early on the day of the parade to secure a good spot along the route. Oh, and bring a bag with you to hold all the "throws" you'll catch. Throws are inexpensive souvenirs, such as beaded necklaces, plastic cups and coins or doubloons, tossed from parade floats. You can encourage the paraders to toss you an item with the traditional call, "Throw me something, mister!"
While New Orleans is host to the biggest and most famous Mardi Gras celebration in the country, there are many other destinations where the beads will be flying on Fat Tuesday. Here are 5 really great alternatives:
Lafayette, Louisiana – For something not quite as raucous as NOLA, but still very authentic, head to Lafayette, which holds the second largest Mardi Gras celebration in Louisiana. Like New Orleans, there are multiple parades, dances and bead throws and several fancy, formal balls.
Mobile, Alabama – Home to the first Mardi Gras in the New World in 1703, Mobile is rich with the celebration's history and traditions. Take a tour of the jeweled crowns, opulent gowns and lavish robes of Mobile’s Mardi Gras Kings and Queens located in a historic mansion on Government Street. Stay a few days after the festivities and see what else Mobile has to offer.
Biloxi, Mississippi – It’s Mardi Gras with a Gulf Coast vibe in Biloxi, with over 24 parades and plenty of festivities. Save some time for the city’s Mardi Gras Museum, which traces the three hundred year history of Mardi Gras on the Gulf Coast. On display are costumes, photographs and memorabilia of carnival celebrations along the coast.
Fayetteville, Arkansas – You’ll find plenty of Fat Tuesday spirit in Fayetteville. Featuring 4 major parades and events all around town.
Pensacola, Florida – With beautiful Pensacola Beach as its surroundings, this Mardi Gras city prides itself on its family-friendly focus to their festivities. While they have big and lavish Mardi Gras parades and plenty of authentic activities, they also have many fun events geared towards children, including a “Kids and Kritters” parade especially for little ones and their pets.
So, choose your city and party in Fat Tuesday style. And, when the partying is over, stay a few more days and explore all that these great cities have to offer.