Monster New Orleans
As I mentioned a few days ago, we here in New Orleans start the Carnival season just after Christmas and New Years end. January 6 marks the Epiphany/Twelfth Night, which is the start of Carnival season and the lead up to Mardi Gras, the last big hurrah before Lent. From now until Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), there’ll be parades and balls and costumes.
We’re not major participants—we don’t belong to any krewes or anything—and that’s the way I like it, at least for now. It can be both expensive and time-consuming to be a part of a Mardi Gras Krewe. But being in the city during such a celebration is a lot of fun, even for someone like me who doesn’t particularly like crowds and doesn’t drink.
Here are 13 things I’ve come to love about the season since living in the city.
1. Parades. There are a lot of different parades, starting with the Joan of Arc parade on Twelfth Night, that take place between Jan. 6 and Ash Wednesday, which marks the end of Carnival and the beginning of Lent. The parades are lively and elaborate. And lots of fun.
2. Flambeaux. This is one I didn’t know about until attending parades here. Heavy torches once lit the way for parades; they’re carried by men who interact with the crowd and the parade itself. Originally, these men were slaves or free black men, and they were thrown tips performing their task. That part of the tradition survives.
3. Costumes. Everywhere there are people in costume. People on floats are in costume. Marching bands are in costume. Horse-back riders and riding and marching krewes are in costume. Spectators are in costumes. They range from the full-on costume to a wig and funny glasses, and you can just never tell what you’re going to see. I love a city that loves to dress up.
4. King cake. They’re a bit like really large cinnamon buns with glittery icing, though you can get king cakes in all kinds of flavors and fillings now. Generally, there’s a small plastic baby (or some kind of trinket, though usually a baby), and there are obligations attached to managing to snag the baby—buying the next cake, for instance.
5. Bead trees. Sometimes, beads manage to make their way into the trees after someone throws them. Sometimes, people put them there. What happens is a lovely, strange looking tree, a species unique to the area. Eventually the beads have to be taken down or cut down so as not to harm trees, but they’re pretty while they’re around.