Mardi Gras Traditions: Mardi Gras History and Guide

January 3, 2017

What Is Mardi Gras

When people think of New Orleans a few things come to mind, beignets, vampires, ghost, and Bourbon Street. However, the most talked about is Mardi Gras.  Here are a brief history, guide, and traditions to Mardi Gras.


The history of Mardi Gras origin dates back to the 17th and 18th century Medieval Europe.  That passed through Rome and Venice. New Orleans has French heritage so there is no surprise Mardi Gras would make its way to the streets. In 1875 Mardi Gras was a legal holiday in Louisiana. With Pagan ties, that represent spring and fertility rites, known as “Carnival”. For many Catholics/Christians, “Carnival” kicks off lent. Like Brazil and Venice, New Orleans takes part in festivities that begins the celebration starting the last night of Christmas called “Epiphany” and ends before midnight before Ash Wednesday known as “Fat Tuesday”.

Why the Mask

Dating back from thousands of years. Mask wearers donned a mask to escape daily constraints and social obligations. People that wear masks can mingle with any social class without being seen. Today New Orleans passed a law requiring all float riders to wear a mask and on “Fat Tuesday” the city allows attendees to wear masks as well.


Many tourists come for the throws “beads”. Beads were throwing as a part of the celebration using traditional colors that the king of the first daytime carnival picked in 1872. Bead colors are royal purple for justice, gold for power, and green for faith. The purpose of these beads was to throw to the person that exhibited these colors. Today specialty beads and trinkets are tossed. Which includes stuffed animals for kids and your occasional big beads. A little tip for tourist there is no need to flash as there are plenty of beads to go around.  Ladies keep your tops on.


Parades were not part of the celebration until 1730, but not like the parades of today. In 1830 New Orleans held street processions, which included mask wearers, horse back riders, carriages, and the famous flame torches “flambeaux”. The final week of Mardi Gras parades and masquerade balls occur. Social clubs organize the parades known as “Krewe”. First known Krewes are Mistick Krewe of Comus, Rex, Krewe of Proteus, and Krewe of Zulu (Predominantly made up of all African-Americans). Each Krewe crowns a king and queen during their assigned balls and the following day leads the parade. Today there are many parades and balls that stretch the week out.

King Cake

King cake made of brioche dough dated back 300 years ago to that celebrates the night after Christmas “Epiphany” all the way through the Mardi Gras season. Shaped with a hollow hole in the middle and sweet glaze. To top it off by using traditional colors purple, gold “yellow”, and green for sprinkles.  A plastic baby which represents baby Jesus are placed inside the cake. The person that gets the piece of cake with the baby is obligated to buy the next cake.


Mardi Gras attracts plenty of tourists. However, if you do not know where the parades start or end you will pay a hefty penny. Some tips to get you through a safe and enjoyable time during Mardi Gras.

Where to stay:

There are hundreds of hotels, and BnBs to stay at, but many hotels will be reserved at least a year in advance just for Mardi Gras. Book early if you plan on staying close to the action.  Not all hope is lost as there are plenty of hotels on the outskirts of New Orleans that will suit your stay. Hotels prices to rise during this time, so keep this in mind.


If you are heading to a parade in New Orleans be ready for a crowd. A few locals camp out days before parades just to get a great spot. Be mindful of where you are at. Don’t want to be wandering an unknown territory. Many locals tape off their section of the area and don’t like locals crashing their party. Also, parking is always an issue. Read the signs for parking. As the New Orleans Police department as no problem booting your car or worst towing it. Don’t bring you valuables with you unwelcome pocket pickers are out there.

What to Bring:

Bags, bags, bags. I recommend backpacks or anything that can carry beads. You would think beads are light. Beads will get heavy when you start collecting them.  Investing in a wagon is a great way to transport all your caught throws, chairs, and cooler.  They run about $50.00, but I promise worth every penny. As you will not need to carry all those beads. They are great for holding folding chairs as well.


Bring comfortable shoes. There will be walking.

Toilet Paper:

Many local establishments will not let you use the restroom unless you buy something so having an extra roll for the porter potties is a must.

A ladder:

I know why a ladder? Many locals tow ladders so they stand out from the crowd and can reach beads. The floats are huge and there will be rows of people. There are local shops that sell the ladders that come with a seat for the little ones. This isn’t a requirement. You can still get plenty of beads without it.


Traveling with little ones on the parade route in New Orleans is tricky and I do not recommend it if this is your first time. The overwhelming amount of people and accessibility to the bathroom can be a problem. In New Orleans, there will be people drinking. With no laws to drinking out in public. People tend not to be on their best behavior.

Have Fun:

You are in New Orleans. You will see things that no other place has to offer. New Orleans is a party city as a result, you must join and embrace it. Grab yourself a daiquiri from a drive thru or walk up window. Hurricanes or hand grenades at the local Tropical Isle.

Mardi Gras is a time to celebrate and enjoy New Orleans culture and all that it has to offer. If you like more information on up coming Mardi Gras parades and events for 2017 and later years click here. Leave your Mardi Gras experiences below.


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