Mardi Gras rocks in north, central Louisiana
Celebrations from Shreveport, Ruston and Monroe to Alexandria and Natchitoches show that Carnival is truly a statewide celebration.
Though Mardi Gras in New Orleans gets worldwide attention, north Louisiana has become a major hub when it comes to celebrating Carnival. Shreveport’s parade organization – the Krewe of Centaur – is the second-biggest such group in Louisiana. Between Shreveport and Monroe alone, hundreds of thousands of spectators cluster along parade routes.
The cities of north Louisiana have embraced the seasonal traditions of their sister to the south, including King Cakes and glamorous balls. One thing north Louisiana does not embrace, however, is risqué behavior. The Krewe of Janus’ parade route through Monroe and West Monroe, for instance, looks nothing like Bourbon Street in the New Orleans. Rather, families from throughout the area and beyond converge for a wholesome, relaxed evening. In Shreveport, open-container rules are suspended for parades, but the city creates a child-friendly zone by prohibiting alcohol along a portion of the parade routes.
The cities and towns of north Louisiana take pride in keeping their Carnival clean. Although Shreveport celebrated Mardi Gras on and off beginning in the 19th century, parading in north Louisiana cities did not begin in earnest until the late 1980s and 1990s. Since then, the holiday has flourished. Small cities and towns, such as Ruston and Minden, have even gotten in on the act.
The Shreveport area – the biggest metropolitan area in north Louisiana – naturally has the busiest Carnival schedule. More than a dozen krewes hold balls, and nearly as many krewes parade the streets. Along with Centaur, the Krewe of Gemini dominates the lineup. On the Shreveport riverfront, dogs and cats become royalty for a day thanks to the Krewe of Barkus and Meoux. Across the river in Bossier City, the Ark-La-Tex Mardi Gras Museum, created by the Krewe of Gemini, tells the story of Mardi Gras in this part of Louisiana.
Like the other cities of north and central Louisiana, Alexandria is relatively new to Carnival parading, with organized celebrations beginning in the mid-1990s. But the “Mardi Gras au Coeur de la Louisiane” (Mardi Gras in the Heart of Louisiana), as the locals have dubbed it, is growing rapidly. Alexandria’s calendar includes a popular Children’s Parade and a full-scale Mardi Gras parade comprised of multiple krewes. Carnival in Natchitoches, meanwhile, provides a historic architectural backdrop similar to that of New Orleans’ Vieux Carré – but without the hubbub and intensity.
The Krewe of Dionysus parade is an all-day event, with a daytime party in the scenic town’s historic district melting into the evening-time parade. You can scarf down some of the town’s famous meat pies to sustain yourself through the long celebration. With the recent flourishing of Carnival events in north Louisiana, it can finally be said that Mardi Gras – coming February 21, 2012 – is a holiday for all of Louisiana.