Here’s What People in New Orleans Actually Think of Mardi Gras
Find out what locals really think about their world-famous holiday.
A lifelong love
Face it: A lot of us can be cranky when it comes to tourists flooding our city streets. New Yorkers hate the annual Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting and the New Year’s Eve ball drop, and Washingtonians dread the crowd that cherry blossom season brings. But the same cannot be said for how the people of New Orleans feel about their landmark holiday, Mardi Gras. Also known as Fat Tuesday, the period and the day leading up to Lent is a celebration that the locals love and in which they take great pride.
A rallying cry
After the extreme devastation Hurricane Katrina left behind in 2005, people in New Orleans and the surrounding towns weren’t sure where they would sleep for the night, let alone if they would still hold the yearly Mardi Gras festival in less than six months’ time. After much debate, it was decided that the festivities would be celebrated in 2006 as planned in order to bolster people’s hopes. “People thought that there was no way the city would be able to embrace its culture and tradition after Katrina,” Mark Romig, president of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation told Time magazine, “but Mardi Gras proved to the country that [New Orleans] would come back.”
A wholesome carnival
To people living outside of The Big Easy, Mardi Gras and the French Quarter are thought of as a haven for party people and college kids. While it’s true that many young people make the trek every year from their state of origin to drink daiquiris and have a good time, there’s a lot more to Fat Tuesday. For the families who live there, the parades—often removed from the debauchery of the Quarter—are wholesome events. It’s a time to take one’s family out to enjoy the floats and the city’s signature big bands. Here are more must-see destinations around the U.S. you should take your kids.
A dog’s day
Man’s best friend has an entire parade dedicated to him and his furry compatriots called the Krewe of Barkus (a krewe is a group that helps to put on the holiday’s festivities). Every year since 1993, dogs have come out in full costume to celebrate. This year’s theme is “The Big Bark Theory: Barkus Goes to Comic Con.”
A cash cow
According to interviews with Louisiana locals conducted by National Geographic, Mardi Gras is appreciated for its fun and excitement and its economic contribution. Mardi Gras may be just one day, but the entire festival season takes place over the course of a month and many businesses spend the months prior to the festivities planning and preparing. Churning out countless celebratory King Cakes, fashioning lavish costumes, and opening store doors to thousands of tourists does wonders for the local economy. Some enterprising locals who don’t mind missing the festivities, or who have friends or family nearby to shack up with, list their homes on Airbnb to make an extra buck. Here are more fun festivals you can visit around the country.
A love of tradition
Mardi Gras may seem like a commercial holiday or a tourist trap, but it actually has a long history in America dating back to the turn of the 17th century. Every year is a chance to honor the tradition. One man, who identifies only as the Captain of the Knights of Sparta Krewe, explains how much his masquerade mask means to him. “I wear the mask,” he told National Geographic, “because it is the tradition of Carnival…when I represent my Carnival Krewe, the Knights of Sparta, I am simply the Captain.” Check out these 13 other things that are older than the U.S.
A money suck
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At the same time that Mardis Gras facilitates a healthy economy for New Orleans, those who are deeply involved in their krewes must invest a lot of money. “It is very costly to the members of the organization,” the Captain continues, “paying dues, buying the trinkets, the throws, ball gowns for the ladies, tickets to different functions.” However, it is money that people like him are happy to spend. “We do it because of a sense of tradition,” he concludes.
An artist’s duty
Big brass bands are as much a part of the cultural heritage of New Orleans as they are part of Mardi Gras, and the two often coincide. Grammy-winning jazz musician Irvin Mayfield tells National Geographic, “For a young musician, you wouldn’t start playing music because of Mardi Gras necessarily, but if you are a musician, you will be involved in Mardi Gras.” Part of the very essence of being an artist in Louisiana is intricately tied to this special celebration. Here are 17 more things you never knew about Mardi Gras.
A long commitment
People of every rank and status participate in making Mardi Gras celebrations the grand affairs they are. Writer Elizabeth Pearce of the Houston Chronicle details how everyone from high school band members to elite costumers dedicate many long hours to honoring this tradition. While the Carnival season is full of fun, it’s also brimming with hard work and diligence.
A warm welcome
Pearce, a native New Orleanian, also describes the warmth, kindness, and generosity surrounding the holiday. “For folks who live along the parade routes, it’s about opening their homes to friends and acquaintances—and occasionally strangers—offering snacks, libations and a place to relax amid the madness,” she writes. Whereas a person in another state might go to all costs to avoid tourists during the holiday season, locals in New Orleans open their arms to all visitors. They simply love the company and the excitement. Next, check out the most popular tourist attractions in each state.