Mardi Gras Misconceptions
Or, what they don’t tell you in Indiana
As a Midwestern woman with New York City sensibilities, there was a time when I was guilty of complete ignorance about Mardi Gras. My first Carnival season living in New Orleans was a revelation.
There is an important lesson I learned in my late twenties – you don’t know what you don’t know. That was incredibly accurate when it came to my misconceptions of Mardi Gras. In the spirit of education, and the confessions to come during Lent, here are some of the common misconceptions I had, and ones I often hear from visitors to our fair city.
Misconception 1: Mardi Gras is only one day.
Yes, and no. Of course Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is only one day, but I had no idea that Carnival season meant there were parades on many days leading up to Mardi Gras day. I also didn’t realize that from Twelfth Night through Mardi Gras day, there would be parties, music, food, decorations and clothing that are special to the season. An important lesson regarding this was the understanding that Mardi Gras is a marathon, not a sprint.
Misconception 2: Parades are only in the French Quarter.
Imagining Orpheus’ Smokey Mary float chugging down Bourbon Street is absurd to me now. I had no concept of how large and complex the parade floats are, not to mention creative and beautiful. I’ve now watched parades from nearly every street they travel, except from Mid-City for Endymion – I’m afraid I’ll confront the Krewe of Chad about their obnoxious space-saving ways.
Misconception 3: Parades are only during the day.
One of my dearest Mardi Gras memories is when I first saw the hard-working folks of the flambeaux. The way they danced those flames seemed impossible with the burden of kerosene on their backs. The street lights suddenly seemed vulgar compared to the glow of the torches. Nighttime parades are some of the most beautiful, and I was oblivious that a parade could occur after sunset. One related fact I also learned was to tip the flambeaux and to do so by handing them the dollar bills.
Misconception 4: Krewe members only throw beads.
As I stare at the Frisbees, stuffed animals, bouncy balls, bracelets, bubble gum, sword, cups, fanny pack, coin purse and wand currently covering my coffee table, I am dumbfounded that I ever thought bead necklaces were the only items thrown during Mardi Gras parades. Now I know to pack a bag to bring to parades just to transport our haul back home. I’m also thankful to programs like Arc of Greater New Orleans and Young Leadership Council’s partnership with ArcGNO to recycle parade throws.
Misconception 5: Mardi Gras is only for adults.
I never really believed contemporary Mardi Gras was about public nudity and debauchery, but I was truly surprised to learn that Mardi Gras is actually about friends and family coming together to enjoy life. I can’t imagine a parade without children playing on the sidewalks and neutral ground with their new treasures. Even on Mardi Gras day, when people tend to get their wildest, many families costume and hit the streets together. The revelry of the Carnival season is a celebration of community. That’s a fact I’m grateful to know firsthand.