Updated: Mar 20, 2020
It's that you're probably wrong. I'm shocked to learn from my tour guests that the misconceptions of Mardi Gras are alive and well, despite this age of Google, social media, You Tube, etc.- it is a really misunderstood celebration. There's probably some reasons: if you hear that a one-day holiday is really just a sloppy, drunk shitshow (and that's not your thing) why even explore it any further? Just plan to avoid that day (joke's on you, we do this all month). Guests I've given tours to- who express sincere curiosity about our customs, our colonized history, the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the local economy, will never ask about Mardi Gras. They travel during the Mardi Gras season without even knowing they'll have the chance to catch some parades- they sometimes even avoid them because they are shy about the rituals of yelling at masked complete strangers to throw things at you. It makes me sad. So here's some facts locals take for granted, in hopes it will raise the veil, encourage you to visit (even with your kids!) and keep you safe:
Mardi Gras starts WEEKS before Mardi Gras Day. To screw with you even more, Mardi Gras Day moves. It's 40 days before Easter- hence Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) is the last day to be a pig before having to observe Lent (in 2020, it is Feb. 25, in 2021, it will be Feb. 16). But one day is not enough for celebrating that pig life- so we start early. The first parades of Carnival season happen on Twelfth Night- the night 12 days after Christmas. But the real deal starts about a month before- get the schedule here. Once in town, you can download parade apps by WDSU and WWL to get the real details.
It all culminates in Mardi Gras Day, but all the days leading up to Mardi Gras Day is where we live our best lives. Streets close for parades and become a giant block party. For. Every. Parade. But let me clarify: not a block party in Babylon. The biggest misconception is that Mardi Gras is not kid-friendly and is a Haven of Hot Mess. The French Quarter during Mardi Gras is not kid-friendly. Tourists in the Quarter are, indeed, a Hot Mess Buffet at this time. But take your tits out anywhere outside of the French Quarter and you'll be stiffly reprimanded by people who are intentionally avoiding the Quarter. On the parade routes, which are outside the Quarter, kids play, adults sip cocktails and people spend the time chatting, eating and chilling out between parades...
I've blown your mind, I know.
Now the unspoken rules you should know:
Download the Parade Tracker app by WDSU or WWL- a lifesaver in so many ways.
People know it's a crowd. They're generally cool. But don't stand in front of their kids and if they look like they've got a big set-up because they, their cousin, their auntie, their cousin's kids and their kids, have been there all day... they probably have planted their flag, so give them room. It's not necessarily fair or right, but who needs the headache.
Make friends with those around you- share your catches with kids, bring a six pack and a box of fried chicken and offer your neighbor a beer or a wing. There, you've made a friend for life. They have your back the next several hours.
Hands in front of your face. Don't be shy- yell for cheap trinkets like they're the kidney you've been waiting for in the ICU. Just keep your gloves up to keep your face safe.
Be nice or leave. Everyone working during Mardi Gras, especially service industry (and taxi/rideshare drivers), is exhausted with people. It's not you, it's the krewe of Chads that just drunkenly wrecked the bathroom, shouted their college cheer and didn't tip. Cut them some slack, be empathetic. The express empathy with tip money.
You're not going to be able to bring all that crap back with you on the plane- see if the parade has a float (usually at the end) with everyone chucking beads at it. Those beads are often donated.
Mardi Gras Day starts EARLY, like sunrise. Eat breakfast and hit the streets, pace yourself on the drinks and expect to be done by 4pm. Get a fanny pack (for your valuables and Kleenex, a.k.a. toilet paper) and a backpack (for booze and Gatorade- NO GLASS on the streets). Expect to lose most of your costume. You did piece together a costume, right? At least dress in something you'd NEVER wear back home. Live a little, it's Mardi Gras.
That said, this isn't your house. Be a guest- even a drunk one knows when they're being a pain in the ass. Don't ruin other people's good time with your romantic bickering, your suddenly tiny bladder or being a loud, handsy frat boy- you're still a grown up and, FYI, there's still cops out. And they're often overworked and tired.
Now spread the word.