It’s a spectacle of parades, unbelievable costumes and dancers in the streets donning purple, green and gold—Mardi Gras’ official colors—with great music, food and drink at every turn.
Most folks know something about Mardi Gras but with a big misconception attached: They think it is exclusive to New Orleans. New Orleans has Louisiana’s largest and most known Mardi Gras, but nearly every community in the state has its own version of the annual party.
Mardi Gras refers to events leading up to Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Mardi Gras, this year on Feb. 9, is French for Fat Tuesday, which refers to the practice of eating rich foods before the religious obligations of Lent. The period leading up to Fat Tuesday is known as the Carnival season.
Parades are the most popular public activity during the days leading up to Fat Tuesday. Parades are organized by private social clubs called krewes. The New Orleans area has more than 60 parading krewes and there are many more throughout the state. Multiple parades are staged in cities including Baton Rouge, Shreveport, Lafayette, Lake Charles and Houma.
Parades include elaborate floats and krewe members in themed costumes. Riders throw tens of thousands of colored beads, themed cups, doubloons (commemorative coins), trinkets, toys and items of humorous or historical nature. Marching between floats are local bands, clowns and flambeau carriers who illuminate night parades with torches.
An unusual Mardi Gras celebration is found in the rural areas in south Louisiana’s Cajun Country such as Mamou, Eunice and Church Point. The Courir de Mardi Gras, or the running of the Mardi Gras, involves costumed locals going house to house on horseback, performing tricks and stunts in an effort to secure donations of chicken, sausage, vegetables and rice that will be used at the end of the day to make a massive gumbo for a community street party, usually featuring live Cajun and zydeco music.
Louisiana visitors can also experience Mardi Gras year-round through popular attractions, including Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World, The Presbytere and the Backstreet Cultural Museum in New Orleans; Capitol Park Museum in Baton Rouge; the Mardi Gras Museum at Central School Arts and Humanities Center in Lake Charles; and the Prairie Acadian Cultural Center in Eunice.
The Louisiana Office of Tourism recently launched a special 2016 Mardi Gras microsite that offers information on major Louisiana Mardi Gras destinations, schedules of parades and special events. For information on nearby attractions, food and overnight providers, visit LouisianaTravel.com.
Learn more with these 10 Things You Might Not Know About Mardi Gras.