Celebrating Mardi Gras like the New Orleanians do
BY: ALEX VILLANEDA
If you’re going to be celebrating Mardi Gras, the best place to celebrate is New Orleans. Mardi Gras, while celebrated differently here on the West coast, is a traditionally a cultural event that encompasses the spirit of the historical city in Lousiana. While Mardi Gras is celebrated all over the world, Mardi Gras in New Orleans is something special.
Mardi Gras is celebrated on Fat Tuesday, the day before the catholic holiday of Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. During Lent it is traditional for Catholics to make a sacrifice for 40 days until Easter—may it be junk food, cigarettes or television. Therefore, Mardi Gras is one last chance for people to indulge.
When it comes to Mardi Gras, there are traditions both public and private. Private parties are held with family members in which they eat what’s called a “king cake." A king cake is a bread baked in a ring covered in sugar or colored icing, usually in the traditional colors gold, green, and purple. The most special part of that cake is the inside, where lies a little plastic baby Jesus. The king cake represents the memory of the three wise men or kings who brought gifts to baby Jesus. Whoever gets the slice with the baby is believed to receive good luck and has the opportunity to host the party the following year. Because of this tradition, the culture is self-perpetuating and returns year after year.
In New Orleans, There are various social clubs, or krewes, that throughout the year operate similar to the Kiwanis or the Lions Club. During Mardi Gras, they each make a float and parade through the streets. They toss out “throws” to the festive spectators, including beads, dolls, or anything else. Zulu is known for handing out painted coconuts and the Krewe of Muses is known for giving out decorated shoes.
The parades are great but while they take place in the main streets, the traditional Mardi Gras Indians roam throughout the city. Every year on Mardi Gras day, groups of men in tribes proclaim their greatness as they wind through the streets of New Orleans in elaborate hand-stitched costumes. The handmade, elaborate costumes are new each year, and the day after Mardi Gras, the Indians begin a new suit already preparing for next year’s festivities.
Each tribe has a chief, a flag boy and a spy boy. The spy boy is sent out in front to look for other tribes, either to create confrontation or avoid it. When two tribes meet, their chiefs do battle nonviolently by chanting, arguing over who is the prettier Indian. Once the battle ends, they go their separate ways until they run into other tribes and repeat the process. Each tribe takes great pride in these battles.
While Mardi Gras often conjures up images of drunkenness and obscenity, this image has been warped drastically from the traditional way of celebration. It is a religious and spiritual family holiday that brings people together and lets them enjoy life, and New Orleans is one place that has preserved this culture.