What Mardi Gras is Really Like

We’ve all seen the Mardi Gras parades on TV or in movies: young adults are out drinking and going crazy, everyone is having a good time, and purple, green, and gold are everywhere.  Of course, we can’t believe everything we see on TV, so how much of that is really true?

 

I grew up in the South (Florida to be exact), but both sides of my family hail from Louisiana, with my mom growing up in a suburb of New Orleans, and I’ve been fortunate to experience Mardi Gras in person. While my experience is undoubtedly different from what you see on TV primarily because I was roughly eight years old and this was 10+ years ago, I did experience it in real life and grew up with one foot in the Mardi Gras culture. Because of this, I can shed some light on the stereotypes.

 

1.     Not everyone is nice

Yes, southern hospitality can be a thing, trust me, but when it comes to celebrating Mardi Gras, some people are just plain mean. For example, when I was six, some guy charged my parents $10 to let me use his private port-a-potty despite me being a six-year-old with medical issues. Rude.

2.     It’s intense

This you can kinda tell from the movies, but being at a Mardi Gras parade, especially one in New Orleans is very intense. My memories of it primarily involve me squeezing between the mass of people trying to get to the front where the floats are and being surrounded by an ocean of bodies. To say it’s intense is putting it lightly.

3.     There’s more than just beer

King Cakes are amazing and perfect to eat during Mardi Gras regardless of age or level of sobriety. Just remember that if you end up getting a slice with the plastic baby in it (because yes, we put a plastic baby in our cakes), you have to get the next King Cake!!

4.     It’s actually originally a religious event

I’m not kidding. The holiday that involves a lot of partying and arguably sinful actions has a religious origin. Mardi Gras means ‘fat Tuesday’ and is basically a giant feast before Ash Wednesday, also known as the first day of Lent when you give things up or fast in order to honor Jesus and get closer to God.

5.     Mardi Gras is a big deal

This stereotype is true: Mardi Gras is a big deal if you are in or around New Orleans. For example, my cousins, who just live across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, get a whole week off for Mardi Gras and they aren’t even in New Orleans!

6.    You don’t have to be in New Orleans to experience Mardi Gras

Okay, technically if you want the crazy Mardi Gras experience, New Orleans is a good place to go. BUT, you can celebrate it in other places and in different ways. When I lived in Florida, my town would have its own little Mardi Gras parade and different businesses or organizations in the community would have their own floats: my mom’s work had a Charlie Brown-themed float once. That parade was a lot tamer than the ones in New Orleans but it was still a great way to celebrate Mardi Gras. You don’t even have to be in the South to celebrate it: I live in Northern Virginia (which is not the South), and every year my family has a Mardi Gras party with traditional Louisiana food, homemade King Cake, and lots of purple and gold. In fact, we even go as far as to leave our fake Christmas tree out and turn it into a Mardi Gras tree!! Go big or go home!!

 

Mardi Gras is an amazing event and if you get the chance to experience it in New Orleans that’s great, but don’t feel like you can’t celebrate it anywhere else. What makes Mardi Gras amazing is the heart and soul put into it, not the crowds or beads (though the beads are fun), and you can celebrate it from wherever you are!!