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Quirky Mardi Gras Traditions in New Orleans


Mardi Gras, by it's Nature, is Quirky

If all you know about Mardi Gras in New Orleans is what you see on TV where revelers show various body parts to drunk occupants of French Quarter balconies for plastic beads, than you don't know nearly enough about Mardi Gras. First, that's only one part of Mardi Gras and it's a street, which at that time of year, is taken over mostly by people from out of town who have seen the same TV coverage. So, before you cross Mardi Gras in New Orleans off your bucket list, let me tell you about this unique and wonderful celebration from a local's point of view.

The Parades

Many people who come in for Mardi Gras either don't know about the Carnival parades or think they can watch them from the French Quarter. Carnival parades (Carnival is the season, Mardi Gras is a day) start about two weeks before Mardi Gras. With the exception of a few small parades, they do not go into the French Quarter. The route is along St. Charles Avenue in Uptown, again with one exception for the biggest parade of the Carnival season, Endymion, which rolls in Mid-City. Lifting your shirt along St. Charles Avenue will not only get you chastised by the many families with children watching the parades, but it may get you arrested for indecent behavior.

Greasing of the Poles

Every year on the Friday before Mardi Gras Day there's a tradition of greasing the poles that support the galleries in the French Quarter. This is a safety measure because on more than one occasion an intoxicated reveler has tried to climb up one of these poles to get at the beads. Here's another point you should know. The difference between a balcony and a gallery is that a gallery has supports that reach the ground and a balcony does not.

Since this is New Orleans, even taking care of safety measures is a fun thing. There's usually a Second Line, (a dance we do in New Orleans for all festive occasions from weddings and births to divorces and the passing of one to heaven) with a Brass Band. The ladders are decorated, there's a band, Mardi Gras Royalty and the media. The big event is usually at the the Royal Sonesta Hotel on Bourbon Street. There's a contest and a trophy for the best "Greaser". Think about it, where else in the world can you take part in a ceremony created abound petroleum jelly.

Mardi Gras Indians

The Mardi Gras Indians are divided into over 50 "tribes" that march Mardi Gras, St. Joseph's Night (March 19), or on a "Super Sunday" in March. Their hand sewn costumes are masterpieces of beading and feathers, and take an entire year to make. The Indians parade in the neighborhoods of New Orleans, near Lafayette Cemetery #2 at Washington Avenue at Loyola - Central City, Shakespeare Park, Armstrong Park, or the Backstreet Cultural Museum at 1116 St. Claude Ave. The Indians have no planned route and are not always easy to find. But, if you get to see this incredible march, you'll never forget. My favorite saying from one of the "prettiest" chiefs some years ago is "I'm mean but I'm clean." You figure it out! Usually on Super Sunday, which is ofter the Sunday closest to St. Joseph's Day, the Uptown Indians gather at Washington and LaSalle Streets, and parade and party at Washington Park.

The Annual Drag Queen Costume Contest

Every year on Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street at exactly 12 noon, there is a one of a kind contest. The Bourbon Street Awards Show is the Gay costume contest. The costumes are over the top gorgeous and elaborate. The show is on the corner of Bourbon and Dumaine Streets in the French Quarter. The big party is at Oz at 800 Bourbon Street.

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