Travel nursing with GIFTED opens the door to many exciting experiences and opportunities. Mardi Gras is perhaps the most unique and entertaining experience of them all.
This post will explain the basics of Mardi Gras so that you can make the most of this one-of-a-kind festival during your next travel nursing adventure!
What Is Mardi Gras?
Mardi Gras, also referred to as Carnival or “Fat Tuesday,” is an annual festival that has been around for hundreds of years, dating back to medieval Europe and making its way from France to South Louisiana in the 17th century. In short, Mardi Gras is a series of celebrations and parades that take place in the days and weeks before Lent, a Christian ritual of fasting and repentance that begins on Ash Wednesday.
New Orleans, Louisiana has become known as the epicenter of the annual Mardi Gras celebration in the United States. It has been celebrated there since 1699, when the explorer Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville first arrived from France. Now, thousands of locals take part each year in a public celebration across the entire city that includes parades, concerts, dining, balls and galas, and much more.
When Is Mardi Gras?
In New Orleans, the Mardi Gras season always begins on January 6, the Christian holy day of the Epiphany. Mardi Gras Day, known as “Fat Tuesday,” is always 47 days before Easter Sunday. Therefore, it is on a different day every year. In 2022, it takes place on Tuesday, March 1.
Although the Mardi Gras season begins in January, the festival typically hits its peak during the 5 – 7 days before Mardi Gras Day. Most visitors arrive the weekend before Mardi Gras Day to enjoy the large amount of parades that take place within that timeframe.
The Mardi Gras Parade & Mardi Gras Krewes
The most famous representation of Mardi Gras in the United States is the Mardi Gras parade. Each year, nearly 70 parades comprised of elaborately decorated floats, dance groups, band members, and more make their way through the city streets. The largest parades can involve over 3,000 people.
Every parade is organized and thrown by a “krewe.” Each of them has a theme, often taken from history, mythology, celebrity figures, children’s stories, and more. Krewe members ride on parade floats, throwing items to parade-goers as the floats pass by.
These items, known as “throws,” can include beads, doubloons, cups, homemade crafts, toys, clothing, and much more. Some parades have “signature throws,” which are iconic and rare items that are thrown every year. If you want to catch beads like a local parade-goer, yell out “Throw me something, mister” as the floats roll by.
Below are a few of the most historic and famous Mardi Gras krewes:
The Mardi Gras parade is a colorful, energetic, and joyous celebration unlike any other. We promise that you’ll never experience anything like it.
Masks, Costumes, and Colors
For many parade-goers and participants, masking and costumes are a common element of the Mardi Gras tradition. Historically, masks were worn by revelers to preserve anonymity and maintain their reputations.
Although anonymity is still an important part of many Mardi Gras krewe traditions, in the modern festival season, elaborate Mardi Gras costumes and masks are worn simply for fun. Many of them incorporate the official colors of Mardi Gras: purple, green, and gold. The colors were proclaimed in 1872 – purple represents Justice, green represents Faith, and gold stands for Power.
If you’re planning to participate in Mardi Gras, check out this comprehensive “How to Dress for Mardi Gras” guide by FrenchQuarter.com.
New Orleans King Cakes are the tastiest part of the Mardi Gras tradition. The name “king cake” is taken from the Biblical story of the three kings who brought gifts to Jesus after his birth.
The King Cake is a “blend of coffee cake and cinnamon roll,” topped with yellow, green, and purple icing and filled with a wide variety of delicious ingredients, including fruits, chocolate, and cream cheese. Within this delectable cake is a hidden surprise: a plastic King Cake baby! Whoever finds the baby is responsible for purchasing the next king cake.
You can find King Cakes at most supermarkets and bakeries around town during the festival season. Don’t miss this Mardi Gras treat!
The Mardi Gras Indians
One of the most unique aspects of the Mardi Gras tradition is the Mardi Gras Indians. Their participation in Carnival dates back to the 19th century, when Native Americans helped protect runaway slaves in the South. Mardi Gras Indian culture is influenced by this historic bond between African slaves and local Native American tribes.
Before the Civil Rights movement, African Americans were banned from mainstream Mardi Gras celebrations. As a result, they created their own celebration within their own neighborhoods, eventually forming dozens of “tribes” that became known as the Mardi Gras Indians.
Each tribe of Mardi Gras Indians has its own unique history and traditions. They are known primarily for their incredible hand-sewn suits, which feature ornate beadwork, beautiful images, and other decorations. Many tribes take to the streets in their elaborate handmade suits to play music and dance, performing traditional chants with tambourines and other percussion instruments.
The Mardi Gras Indians are truly a sight to see, and their story is a very important part of the history of Mardi Gras.
While Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) is the culmination of Carnival season, Lundi Gras, or “Fat Monday” offers a huge array of traditions and fun as well. In the 70s and 80s, Lundi Gras was known as a day of rest before the big party on Tuesday. However, Lundi Gras is now another day of big-time partying full of its own unique events.
Here are a few events and traditions to check out on Lundi Gras:
- Fat Monday Luncheon – “the oldest tradition in Louisiana LGBTQ history”
- Red Beans Parade – a parade celebrating the New Orleans tradition of eating red beans and rice on Mondays
- Zulu Lundi Gras Festival – a day of music, arts, and food along the New Orleans riverfront, held by the historic Krewe of Zulu.
- Riverwalk Lundi Gras celebration – An event full of food, live music, and shopping at the historic New Orleans Riverwalk.
Enjoy Mardi Gras This Year as a GIFTED Nurse
Want to take enjoy Mardi Gras during your next travel nursing assignment? Apply now and learn about the wide variety of GIFTED contracts available in South Louisiana!