In the beginning New Orleans was a French Catholic city. In those days people took their religion very seriously and the period of Lent before Easter was a time of fasting, no eating meat, no dancing, no drinking, no parties - a real drag. That's why people really cut loose on Fat Tuesday, the English word for Mardi Gras, and partied like there was no tomorrow. They wore masks so no one would recognize them and they ate and drank and carried on til the stroke of midnight when Ash Wednesday began. In these less strictly religious times the Mardi Gras period has expanded. Some celebrations begin as early as Epiphany January 6, the day when the three wise men found the baby Jesus and brought him gifts.
Krewe is the French word for club and various social clubs formed to begin the traditions we know as Mardi Gras today. The krewes were selective and tended to include only the richest folks who could afford the steep annual dues. This money was used to build floats, create new costumes and purchase the goodies that those who ride the floats throw to the watching crowds. In the beginning they threw things so the poor people would show up and watch. These days some krewes are still quite exclusive, but others make their own costumes and economize. The beads and other goodies thrown today can cost each parader $500 and some krewes have gone out of business over the years. Each krewe holds its own parade and the only expense that the city incurs from all this is the police who keep order and the clean up crews after the parade is over. Most of the krewes take their names from mythology or ancient Greeks or Romans.
Today we went to our first two parades - the Carrolton (named for a neighborhood) and King Arthur krewes. It was great to arrive via tour bus and not have to worry about where to park. We brought lawn chairs and settled in next to the natives. Most young families brought ladders with wooden seats attached to the stop. These seats were perches for the small children, so they could see well and not be trampled by the bigger folks scrambling to catch the goodies that were being tossed from the floats. Their seats had wheels on them, so that when the parades was over, dad could flip the ladder and roll it back to the car.
Both parades we saw today followed a similar pattern. Marching bands with beautifully costumed dancing girls were interspersed with floats which were staffed with people throwing beads, frisbees, plastic memorabilia cups, moon pies, flowers, stuffed animals, and other Mardi Gras paraphenalia. One parade had a Broadway show theme; the other had floats with ancient Egyptian references. All the floats and the costumes the krewes wear are brand new every year. The show is truly a labor of love. At first we concentrated on taking photos, but soon we were swept up in the frenzy of catching things. After two parades we came home with five pounds of beads. Since this was only our first parade day of many, we might need to jettison our golf clubs by the time this all is over.