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By Sara Hudson
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Mardi Gras revelers enjoying a parade.

Mardi Gras. Two little words with an infinitely large explanation.  For different people it’s different things—an event, an idea, a day, a way of life, piece of history, state holiday, or a million parades and countless memories.  Think you know Mardi Gras? That it’s all about booze and beads? Think again! 

View the 2014 Mardi Gras Parade Schedules from around Louisiana.

10 Things About Mardi Gras

10. Carnival is a season; Mardi Gras is a day. Sure, we all do it. “Yea, I’m going to New Orleans for Mardi Gras!” we say, when we’re actually going to see parades the weekend before Mardi Gras, or the weekend before that. Technically, “Mardi Gras” is the last Tuesday before Ash Wednesday ushers in 40 days of best behavior, and “Carnival” is the season that begins on the Feast of Epiphany. A krewe (pronounced in the same way as "crew") is an organization that puts on a parade and or a ball for the Carnival season.

9. Your dog will love Mardi Gras. Dogs just want to have fun! And that’s what they get at their very own parade in New Orleans, the Krewe of Barkus.

8. Mardi Gras is for families. Got kids? Watch parades with local families in New Orleans’ favorite family parade-watching spots, which include St. Charles and Napoleon, where turning parades leave extra long time to wheedle for goodies, and St. Charles at 3rd or 4th, conveniently close Garden District lodging.

7. The Best Ways To Get Parade Goods Aren’t Always Obvious. Sure, you could say, “Throw me something, Mister!” or you could stick your cute kid on your shoulders, but if you really want to test your suitcases’ weight limit, head to the end of the parade. You’ll be showered by effervescent float-riders with a single goal: chuck all bags of beads off before they get off the float themselves.

6. You Never Know What They’ll Throw. Bathroom humor never grows old, as evidenced by the irreverent joy of Krewe of Tucks riders in their giant toilet bowl float! The screaming crowds line the street begging for their bathroom-themed throws, including monogrammed toilet paper, sunglasses shaped like toilets, mini-plungers, and more. In Shreveport, we love the Krewe of Highland, who throw Spam and hot dogs. Anyone can come home with beads. Only those in the know get miniature squirting toilets and dinner.

5. The Best Parades Aren’t Necessarily The Biggest: Thoth. Who? Thoth. The word Thoth rhymes with “close,” that is, if you happen to say “close” with a lisp. Not only does the Thoth parade look like they are having the most fun, but Thoth also has a higher-than-normal ratio of throws. The beads represent their Egyptian roots and are covered in hieroglyphics.

4. Why We Throw Beads at Mardi Gras? Legend has it in the 1880s, a man dressed like Santa Claus recieved such fame throwing beads, that other krewes followed suit. Makes sense, seeing before that, krewes threw any manner of items, including food and dirt. Today krewes buy plastic beads en masse which parade-goers prefer over dirt! Locals still love to see throws of tiny glass bead strands, which are rare and seemed to phased out in the 1960s and 1970s.

3. The Weight Of Revelry. Think your suitcase is heavy? Officials estimate upwards of 25 million pounds of Mardi Gras items get tossed from floats—more than half of which winds up on New Orleans streets. In fact, locals like to visit ARC of New Orleans and recycle their beads for next year.

2. Mardi Gras Is a Legal Holiday. It really is! Despite the preponderance of what might “seem” like illegal activity, Mardi Gras is a legal holiday in Louisiana, and has been since 1875, when Governor Warmoth signed the “Mardi Gras Act.”

1. Mardi Gras Isn’t Just in New Orleans. When you hear “Mardi Gras” do you think New Orleans? Think again. Get your mardi gras groove on at the Cajun Mardi Gras in Lafayette or go dance at a Baton Rouge Mardi Gras ball. Next, check out the Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu in Lake Charles or the particularly family-friendly Mardi Gras in Alexandria. Mardi Gras is also celebrated all over the world including many locations in Europe and massive celebrations are found in Brazil every year!