Keep Your Eyes on the Beads and Your Fears on the Ground-Negativity About Mardi Gras in New Orleans Debunked
Posted: March 23, 2019
Author: Marie Elena
For most American citizens, January to March means “ugh…winter.”
But in the southern states of the USA, particularly New Orleans, Louisiana, these few months mean something COMPLETELY different. They means a much brighter time. They mean a time to, once again, live in unity with all those around you and to immerse yourself in one-of-a-kind traditions and festivities. They basically mean a religious experience and a free pass to be 100% YOU with absolutely ZERO judgement (seriously, I’ve seen it all…also, that sounded a little bit like an infomercial for a gym….hmm…).
They mean CARNIVAL SEASON!
Since many of you have asked me straight up, “What ARE these shenanigans you partake in every year?”, here it is in a bead shell:Carnival season is in fact a “season” in that festivities and cultural traditions begin in early January and continue up through Fat Tuesday (AKA “Mardi Gras” in French) of that year. The day following the end of Mardi Gras is known as Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of the 40 day Lent Season up until Easter, for all of my fellow Catholic school classmates who failed Religion class.
Historically speaking, in the Catholic tradition, “Fat Tuesday” is celebrated traditionally with feasts, drinks, costumes and rowdiness, so that one can pretty much “get all of the sins out of the system”, for lack of a better explanation, before going on the 40 day “purge” of Lent.
But like…why only give up one thing for 40 days when you could eliminate about 50 things for 365 days?? Hey let’s go on the keto diet! Now THAT sounds like a religious experience!
Sometimes, Fat Tuesday is as early as early February, but other years, it comes as late as early March (Did that sound confusing enough?! I’ve had a lot of coffee!).
The time is filled with celebrations, events, music, traditional foods (yes, we will discuss the delicious slice of edible gold known as “king cake” later), and most importantly…PARADES!!
And I’m not talking like the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Cleveland.
I mean PARADES.
The weekend immediately before Fat Tuesday is known as “Mardi Gras weekend,” which is the weekend with the biggest and most well-known parades and the weekend most out-of-towners head down to the Big Easy. It is the weekend I too exchange my usual northern winter coat for some feathery boas, neon leggings and a pair of flip flops (at least for the first day of hell on earth for my poor unsuspecting feet).
But why do I go back every year? What is SO different about this time and this place in comparison to any other tradition or location in the world? Why IS Mardi Gras weekend something I return to annually and why am I not the only one with this tradition and overwhelming desire to go back each year?
I’ll tell you why…
The Mardi Gras season is a time where it matters not where you’re from, who you are, the color of your skin, your chronological age, who you fancy for president or the outlandish wardrobe ensemble (or malfunctions if you’re me) you’ve decided to assemble upon yourself for the evening.
The Mardi Gras season is about setting aside differences and negativity, putting yourself (I said “yourself”, not “your boobs”) out there (but it those puppies have a hankering to see Bourbon Street, well…a little vitamin D wouldn’t hurt) and living in one big happy bubble of unity with all those around you. It is probably the only time the ridiculous petty differences which separate the human race every other time of the year in any other location are forgotten about.
And like that, you are just a person standing beside another person who is enjoying time with his or her family, friends, kids, or even by themselves. And they are all there for the exact same intended purpose that you are:
Why, to hide that wardrobe malfunction in the big crowd of people, of course!
And for the record, no my boobs have never seen Bourbon Street, so you can stop asking once and for all!
Also, if I have to hear one more time from someone who has never been to Mardi Gras “how DID you get ALL OF THOSE BEADS?!”, I might just start having some fun fabricating a response.
Or just show them these pictures…
Does this clarify how I manage to end up with beads?
I wanted to create a blog post solely about Mardi Gras because of how much of a tradition and a staple it has been for me and my best friend every year since 2008. This time is something so underecognized in most parts of the country and outside of the south, it simply does not receive the attention it deserves, so here is your PSA!
Heck! I wouldn’t have known anything about about it either, being from Ohio, had my friend and I not randomly decided to take a road trip to New Orleans “one random weekend” to see our favorite band that year! I mean, that weekend DID turn out to ALSO be Mardi Gras weekend, which we incidentally discovered!
Well…I’m USUALLY the last one to discover obvious things, so that only makes sense! Right?
And like that, it became a yearly road trip, tradition and time to step away from our busy routines and once again, immerse ourselves in the magic that is “Nawlins!”
But what really pushed me to the edge enough to devote all of these thoughtful tea-with-lemon-sipping weeks (cue last blog) solely to a Mardi Gras blog post is the fact that nearly every time I go, I have begun to notice a familiar pattern of responses from others the moment my plans leave my larynx and enter another’s tympanic membrane (that means ear canal). What!? I’m a Speech Pathologist, remember? I couldn’t resist!
They are not the responses I get when I say that I’m headed to New York for the weekend or to Europe in a month, but a particular type of response unlike any other.
It is usually a far more skeptical, inquisitive or downright negative reaction much of the time, which is similar to that which might take place from ME following my husband’s removal of his dirty socks which he hasn’t washed in two months.
I’m serious. It’s BAD.
The reactions usually give way to the many same inevitable questions and comments to follow, which have begun to present themselves in a few common familiar themes in a manner which can only be represented by this interrogative disparaging Mexican cat:
I’ve come to realize that most people who live in my region of the country either have absolutely no idea what or when Mardi Gras even IS OR they have a complete misconception of it. And is it any wonder when 99% of news and media content is centered around every negative ongoing of the world?? What about the positive ongoings??
How many times have you heard about a city, a country or even an event because there was some type of violent outbreak or killing? I mean, that’s nightly news, right? People make big bucks to literally talk an hour a night on national television to basically convince the general public that World War III is taking place in all corners of the world.
But alas, New Zealand is STILL one of the most peaceful places on the planet, no everything in Australia will NOT kill you, the Zika virus is NOT coming for you the second you step foot onto South American soil, your breakfast is most certainly NOT shortening your life (unless it’s salad leaves of course), your airline most likely will NOT turn into a cruise line when you go on your next vacation (think about that one), no you will NOT get shot venturing into that scary place with the tall buildings known as…gulp…”downtown”……
…and this may come as a shocker…but Bourbon Street is NOT DANGEROUS!
Unless I’m there and I’ve had too much coffee again, in which case, avoid it at all costs.
Our thoughts can be our own worst enemies.
As a result, many are afraid to leave their homes, let alone go to a foreign country or new place. Then, God forbid, you throw buzz words in there like “solo travel” or “Mardi Gras” and you get an audience of folks looking at you like you just told them that John Snow just died again on Game of Thrones.
But as usual, I’m here to debunk these misconceptions which can quickly become our reality if we allow it. After all, how are we suppose to know anything different than what we’re told unless we experience it for ourselves? It isn’t enjoyable to live life in fear and honestly, the more of the world I see for myself, the less I’m afraid of it.
Not being afraid doesn’t mean being oblivious. It means experiencing the world as it is and not as it is reported by those who pay the bills by convincing you to be afraid of your own shadow (or your breakfast)!
So here are the common responses and questions I often get along with the responses I have once and for all:
“Oh my! Be careful!”
This to me is kind of a “Well….duh. Aren’t I always?” Like everything else, having a good head on one’s shoulders is always a good idea (unless you’re a contortionist, of course).
As with any other experience, being mindful of your environment is always important. Mardi Gras is no exception. But when I go to New York or even a foreign country, I usually hear “Wow! When are you going? I loved it there!”
This is usually the first thing I hear. It’s also usually the last thing and most often, also the middle comments which come in between.
So what’s up with Mardi Gras?
I’ll tell you what’s up with Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras means a lot of people. People mean crowds. Crowds mean opportunity for trouble. Opportunity for trouble is often connotatively associated with drunken carelessness, getting roofied, hanging out in your birthday suit in public or just about anything else more dangerous than the Telitubbies (which are probably also now considered “dangerous” somehow).
While there certainly are a lot of people at Mardi Gras, I’ve found that the vast majority of the people are there for the same reason as me; to have a good time, to share an experience with friends and family and to enjoy the culture that is New Orleans (and obviously to continue to hide that wardrobe malfunction for the third consecutive day).
I’d even argue that some of those “opportunity for trouble” phrases are even LESS likely to occur at Mardi Gras because of the sheer happiness vibe radiating through the city during that time. I mean, even the police are friendly and part of the festivities as they throw beads out to the crowds! Kids are mixed with adults, teens, families, locals and foreigners alike and everyone is unified, sharing beads and mingling — a very unique experience that is hard to find during any other time or place in the country.
Like anything else, SOMETHING always has the capacity to go awry anywhere you go, but Mardi Gras is no different from any other festivity. Be responsible, but have a good time. Be nice and people will be nice back to you. Be yourself and allow the vibes to fill your soul. You’ll be home soon enough in your normal routine of nightly news watching to hear about that “shooting on Bourbon street everyone knows about” (most likely related to some type of private drug deal anyway as in most cases), which you had absolutely no idea even happened when you were there!
“But…you’re married!” “But…you have kids” “But…ANYTHING!”
What is it with our society and “but?” Also, what is with the thought process that having a family and going to an event like Mardi Gras are mutually exclusive? The minute I got married, many of those around me assumed I would no longer be going to Mardi Gras with my best friend on our annual girls trip. Why?
Actually, it is seen as negative in general to go ANYWHERE or even DO anything without one’s spouse in the American culture. But since when does being married mean we are not allowed to have individual lives as well? Personal lives allow for balance and sense of self.
It’s almost as if going somewhere or doing something without your “other half” automatically means some type of impromptu infidelity-driven Vegas wedding with a stranger, joining a gang, some good old fashioned drug wars, or death in a ditch somewhere just because you’re “unsupervised”……..
……..actually, that last one is likely to happen to me supervised or not!
Oh and the bit about kids? If you’ve ever been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, you’d know just how many of them I had to battle for beads!
Not really though. I just did it slyly and gave away my duplicates.
OK, maybe I should have not included that sentence. Don’t judge me! The struggle is REAL!!
But in all seriousness, kids down south are off school around Mardi Gras. It is a time for ALL ages to celebrate. Children march in the parades and likewise attend them. Even toddlers and babies tag along to the festivities with their parents.I mean, seriously. The prizes thrown out from the floats are pretty unbeatable!
There definitely is NO age minimum or limit for Mardi Gras festivities. I see two year-olds strapped into elevated high chairs and elderly couples parading through the streets with their bead-encrusted walkers alike. There really is not a “but” for this one.
If you want to go, go! If you don’t, don’t.
But don’t not go because of a “but” you cooked up!
And PS: I definitely plan to take my kids there when I have them. I can’t think of a better more exciting experience for a child in a day that children…well… let’s just say…simply aren’t always given the opportunity to just be kids anymore.
But that’s just me.
Point in case
My! You have so many beads there (referring to like five or six)…what did you do to get THOSE??”
First, go to even just one parade….or if you really feel like it, scoop one off a tree, off a fence or off the ground if you’re really feelin’ like firing up the ol’ immune system!
Actually, don’t do any of this. Just be anywhere in the vicinity of Louisiana and be a human being (or an inanimate object for that matter) outside of your house. If you don’t have on at least 10 beads at a time at any given moment, there is probably something wrong with you!
Second, five or six beads was how many I put on before I left my house in Cleveland so I didn’t stand out upon my arrival.
Beads are EVERYWHERE and the whole point of the parades is to have hoards of interesting themed prizes and beads thrown directly to you (or AT you in my case many times, so I really DO mean “keep you eyes on the beads”, as it appears in my blog title!!)!
And when you get them, you’re hooked. They WILL be coming home with you and you WILL find a way to get them there, even if this means purchasing a new suitcase on Amazon before your flight home (or spending a few more bucks on gas if you drive)!
“Isn’t it just crazy down there? I mean…the crowds?”
Did I mention that Louisiana does not have open container laws, so if you walk into a bar or restaurant and grab a drink, you aren’t necessarily confined to that spot? You get to just take it and walk around or along with you to the parades and festivities!
In my mind, St. Patrick’s Day in Cleveland is far more of a cluster “f*!#” than New Orleans on Mardi Gras. The trick? 800 people aren’t attempting to fit into 120 square feet of space all to avoid getting locked up for having a square inch of a toe out on public property while touching a corner of the pinky finger to the straw of an adult beverage.
On a side note, the parades extend for miles upon miles and take hours to run their full course. I know there is some kind of scientific law regarding movement of mass into unused open space, but it’s escaping me right now. Whatever it is, this is clearly the case in New Orleans at Mardi Gras! So crowds yes, claustrophobia, no. Again, not what you’d expect.
“What is there to even DO at Mardi Gras other than drink to excess and foolishly stumble around Bourbon Street?”
A. Bourbon street is not the only street in New Orleans and if you spend all of your time there only on that street, you’re seriously missing out! Head to areas like the garden district if you really want to see true New Orleans.
B. No open container laws allowing for increased time to down that two gallon daiquiri=probably for the best
C. As with everything else in life, you are the same person wherever you go. I cannot emphasize this enough!
If you’re someone who loves to take a nice little nappy poo on that inviting street curb just to “rest your eyes” for a bit after a “a few” too many, hey…no judgement…life is so much more enjoyable when you’re well-rested!
If that poor unsuspecting bar table suddenly fulfills your staging requirements to carry out that “perform on Broadway” dream you’ve always had….well…I guess it doesn’t have much of a choice (poor bastard).
If you suddenly remember that “AWESOME SKILL” you learned in the first grade and INSIST upon demonstrating your abilities at ONCE, well…maybe you should have that nap first. And don’t forget to take off your beads first (this can present a serious balance issue)!
What I mean is Mardi Gras isn’t going to MAKE you into someone you’re not just because they sell alcohol in New Orleans and there are a lot of people.
If you live a moderate balanced life, you’ll keep on living one.
If you avoid alcohol all together because you’re one of those people whose face would resemble that of Clifford the Big Red Dog, great! The air is not alcoholic in the south.
If you’re the entertainment show of the party (or the circus act) at your bar at home, then come find me in New Orleans because I love to take pictures and videos and post them!! Maybe you’ll make it big on YouTube and go viral!
D. I hate to break it to you, but if you ONLY go to New Orleans for the drinks, you’re not really experiencing everything it has to offer. Carnival time is about experiencing not only the party, but also New Orleans itself. I say get the Jester daiquiris and hurricanes and experience Bourbon Street and the parades! You should!!
But don’t forget to also visit Cafe Dumonde for a good old fashioned powdered sugar blizzard to the clothing episode!
And get at LEAST three helpings of jambalaya, Po’ boys or gumbo.
Or do some shopping at the little store fronts and the French Market and sample some hot sauces (But whatever you do, don’t get them on your hand!!!!).
Circa 2013…dunking my hands in ice at a bar since I lost my ice pack! It was the only way I could live! Do NOT take this lightly! Hot Sauce in Nawlins is NO JOKE!
The House of Blues has concerts!
And you can take the Steamboat Natchez or the ferry across the water to peaceful Algiers Point!
If you have a car like we usually do, take a little venture away from the city for an afternoon! We have done things like visit a remote area of Lake Pontchartrain…
or the old abandoned Six Flags, which closed due to Hurricane Katrina and there certainly are no crowds or lines there!
Six Flags hasn’t been open since 2005 but nature and decomposition have been hard at work since then…
New Orleans literally has SO many options which don’t stop Mardi Gras weekend. The lines are just shorter…or non-existent!
So point in case, if all you want to do is drunkenly stumble around Bourbon street, that’s totally cool, but if you’re feeling rejuvenated from your sidewalk nap and have the energy, there certainly is more of New Orleans to explore!
Reaction # 6:
“New Orleans is filthy. I’d never go there!”
It’s not as bad as New York and people LOVE New York!
But in all seriousness, New Orleans does a darn good job of clean up given the sheer quantity of people and the aftermath of the parades. If you’re spending your time analyzing those random puddles in that random groove of the street trying to determine if it is in fact rain water or something far more sinister, you’re missing the point of your visit.
I’m not going to go on a tangent for this one (the coffee is wearing off).
New Orleans is not filthy or even dirty unless you decide in your mind that it is before you even visit, in which case, everything you find on the ground will be “far more sinister” than it actually is.
New Orleans is a beautiful city and the people who run it take great pride in it. At the very least, plan to visit and see for yourself.
Reaction # 7:
“Where do you even stay when you’re down there???”
I think the better question is where HAVEN’T I stayed?
Oddly enough, I’ve never had a problem finding somewhere to stay and I’m about as procrastinative (That’s definitely not a word, but it definitely should be!) as it gets.
Also oddly enough, I’ve found that accommodation rates down there, especially when you split the cost with friends, are not even necessarily as expensive as you’d think during the busiest weekend of the year.
During the first few years of our attendance at Mardi Gras, my friend and I booked hostels and bed and breakfasts. It allowed us to meet other travelers and stay in places that felt like…well…New Orleans!
But in the recent years, we have stayed in a three-part old plantation house known as the “Race and Religious house”, which is a well-known house on the corner of Race Street and Religious Street (However did they think of the name?!). It is a very popular house in the city and it’s often used as a wedding venue and has even made an appearance in a Bud Light commercial and in NCIS New Orleans among other TV shows!
Like…Come ON! THIS is New Orleans!
This house was usually reserved by one of our friends each year. He had a good track record for leaving the house in tidy conditions, so the owners trusted us (until those chairs broke…woops).
And it was through this house that we were able to met a whole slew of other people who became annual Mardi Gras friends.
The house was eventually rented back to others and the group slowly dwindled, but my friend and I continue to make the trip back there year after year.
This year, we stayed in a hotel, which was, like every other accommodation we’ve had, in prime location and within walking distance to everything.
Actually, it’s hard NOT to find something within walking distance. Does that even exist??
Oh, and let’s not forget Air BnB, which is also another hospitable reliable and “authentic” source!
Sometimes booking a place to stay too close to Mardi Gras weekend can be tough, but it’s never impossible, even if you have to stay a couple of places. Usually calling in person works wonders and no matter what, there will always be at least a few options.
If worst comes to worst, you can always join your fellow curbside napper and save a few bucks! Who knows! Maybe you’ll end up there anyway!
Reaction # 8:
“Holy #$%&! That’s a LOT of beads you brought home! What will you even do with all of them?? Aren’t they just a waste of space?”
OK NOW you can say I have a lot of beads.
And I think my spice cabinet contents are a bigger waste of space than my beads.
Like…do you KNOW how much I use garlic powder????
There are many things you can do with those beads once you’re back home and want to save them from enduring the animosity of those boxes of Christmas decorations who are starting to feel threatened.
You can transform every door knob, hook and protrusion in your house into a festive reminder of great times.
You can decorate a Mardi Gras Tree.
You can make creative home décor out of them or turn them into jewelry or gifts for your friends who have absolutely no idea what you did to get them (this is suddenly becoming a majorly generous and sacrificial gift!)!
Better yet, you can make gifts for the friends who were there with you at Mardi Gras!
If you REALLY don’t want them (insert second John Snow death face here), you can donate them to local schools for class art projects.
But don’t forget to keep the “good beads” so you ALWAYS have something to wear and “give”/LEND to your friends for future holidays or occasions (but make sure you get them back just in case you wake up in a cold sweat at 2am on a a warm June morning remembering what you gave up last St. Patrick’s day!
Reaction # 9:
“You never did explain what this “edible gold” known as king cake was!!”
Oh God! I didn’t, did I?!
King cake is a traditional dessert eaten during the carnival season which resembles that of a giant Mardi Gras-themed doughnut covered in frosting and sugar! It’s often filled with some kind of cream cheese, praline or fruit crack…errr…filling. It is literally the best dessert known to man.
Oh and look what goes on top!!!
Just in case you needed a few more ounces around your neck on the plane ride home to avoid that embarrassing overweight suitcase debacle at the front of the check in line.
You know. The one where you send your suitcase on a diet and then dress yourself like you’re about to visit Antarctica…
On a side note, there is traditionally a plastic purple or green baby placed inside of the cake somewhere and if it winds up in your mouth, it is said that you will have good luck. Also, you’re now responsible for buying next year’s king cake.
It’s kind like catching the bouquet at a wedding but will cost you less money in the future!
And if you’ve given up cake or something terrible like that for Lent, there ARE other options! Are these allowed on that keto diet??
Reaction # 10:
“This blog is long. Are we finished yet?”
You’re in luck. I’m low on coffee again. Does that answer your question?
All in all, the point of my long-winded ramble is that you should never judge a book by its cover or a city or event by its cover STORY on the news.
See the world (and the bag of beads flying at your face) through your own eyes and not the eyes of others (that actually sounds pretty dangerous). The best way to change your perception of reality is to really perceive it.
In my mind, I think that everyone should experience Mardi Gras in New Orleans at least once in a lifetime. Maybe you’ll hate it. Maybe you’ll love it and return every year like I do. But you’ll never know unless you give it, along with everything else in a life, a chance.
After all, you just may come home as a well-rested Broadway star with a brand-new luggage set, a neck of steel, a renewed sense of self-wardrobe and your own viral YouTube channel.
What could possibly go wrong?
In other news, my coffee is gone.