Mardi Gras translates to Fat Tuesday, and it is the day before the austerities of Lent which begin Ash Wednesday the next day. About two weeks before Fat Tuesday, krewes or organized groups begin parades through the streets of New Orleans and surrounding localities. The parades consist of floats with costumed characters on board. The major Krewes have their parades close to Fat Tuesday. Floats often feature celebrities, and these colorful and remarkable parades attract thousands of onlookers. The krewe members who ride on the floats throw strings of brightly coloured beads to the people as well as small toys and fake gold coins.
In 1872, when the Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff from Russia came to New Orleans just before the beginning of the Mardi Gras celebrations, there were some special activities planned for him. A special parade was planned by some local businessmen who named a king or Rex for the day. At that time, the appointed king chooses gold, green and purple as the colours of his costume. In 1892, the appointed king decided that these colours represented power, faith and justice, and this symbolism has remained to this day. Some believe the colours have deep religious significance and some believe they are symbolic, but everyone believes they are a brilliant background for the celebration.
The carnival season begins on Twelfth Night or January 6th. There are masked balls to mark the occasion, but the parades donít begin until about three weeks before Mardi Gras Day. There are also king cake parties. King cake is a cake which is usually made like a coffee cake in the shape of a wreath. It has white sugar frosting with green, gold and purple coloured sugar sprinkled on top. Some king cakes are more elaborate with chopped fruit and nuts.
The hotels in the French Quarter and Central Business District usually require visitors to stay four of five days. It is recommended to make reservations in August for a stay during Carnival. By December, all the rooms are booked. There could be a cancellation, but it is not wise to hope for this.
Get a good map and decide the best places to visit. The distance from the hotel should be determined and what transportation will be used to get there.
For viewing a particular parade, visitors should get to the spot they want very early. Sometimes they should arrive as early as 6:00 am for an evening parade. For late comers, there will be some small place from which they can see the parade.
The French Quarter is only for pedestrian traffic during this time except for residents and hotel guests. A bicycle is a good means of transportation during carnival. The bike should be locked when it is not in use.
Visitors should always cooperate with the overworked police. They should stay behind the barricades and not move to get trinkets from the road.
Mardi Gras is the chance for everyone to dress in costume. Most of the onlookers of the parades will also be in costume. Itís great fun to people-watch and take pictures of the most outrageous costumes. It is best to bring an inexpensive camera that doesnít need to be protected.
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