New Orleans has always had a unique flair, a special beauty that is hard to grasp. History oozes from every corner, from pirate legends to voodoo queens to stately old antebellum homes. If you’re one of many people intrigued by the colorful celebration of Mardi Gras, it’s easy to plan your own Mardi Gras bash. It can be as cheap or as expensive as you like, depending on the decor, food, and entertainment you want to have. You can make everything by hand or indulge in a party supply store or online; the choice is yours.
Mardi Gras has always been a major part of New Orleans’ culture although there were times (mainly during wars and years when the revelry got to be a bit too much for the townspeople) that it was dangerously close to being eradicated. No one is exactly sure when the custom began. In the 1800s, grand balls were held with costumed denizens enjoying their unique celebration. Floats and parades became popular later in time and eventually Mardi Gras evolved into the loud, exciting, and sometimes irreverent celebration it is today.
What are the basics of Mardi Gras?
- Beads (in purple, green, and gold, the traditional Mardi Gras colors)
- King Cakes (special cakes baked with a tiny bean or figure inside; the person who finds the special item in their piece is crowned as “royalty”). You may choose not to buy a cake with a figure or bean inside, especially if you have very small children as this provides a choking hazard.
- Music (traditionally the jazz that New Orleans is famous for)
- Costume (colorful masks that come in all shapes and sizes)
If you want to integrate these traditions into your Mardi Gras bash, here’s how:
You can either buy a King Cake from an authentic New Orleans bakery online or you can make one. King Cakes can be “bready” and have more of a bread consistency, or they can be more like cake. Many bakeries sell King Cakes with special fillings that make them more like a cake. They are brightly decorated with green, purple, and gold sugar. I was lucky enough to find a King Cake in the bakery of my local grocery store – it even had a plastic figure inside like the traditional cakes – but this was an unexpected surprise and should not be counted on. You can bake a King Cake yourself with the proper ingredients.
Mardi Gras beads are easy to find online or at any party supply store. They can be used as a decoration for the table or walls or worn around the neck for a fun and easy Mardi Gras costume. If you want to take the time for a homemade touch, buy purple, green, and gold beads and string your own. It’s imperative to get the right colors. Without the Mardi Gras color scheme, it’s just an ordinary bead necklace.
Masks are another important part of your Mardi Gras celebration with many essays been written on the subject. You can purchase stunningly beautiful masks of all different designs, colors, and sizes online or you can buy them in a chain store or a party store that sells Mardi Gras items. You can also make your own masks if you’re on a budget or just want the experience to be centered on homemade creations. Last year I purchased a beautiful green velvet Mardi Gras mask with feathers and had great fun wearing it around the house even before Mardi Gras began!
Food is an important part of any Mardi Gras party. Last year for my party, I had po’boys (traditional New Orleans sandwiches on long French rolls) with roast beef. You can also make traditional New Orleans fares like seafood dishes, jambalaya, or red beans and rice. Shrimp fits the Louisiana theme as well. Consider French foods for a different twist.
Mardi Gras is meant to be a fun, upbeat, and colorful holiday. You can celebrate the traditional way or add some of your own special touches. I like studying New Orleans on this day, watching the “parade cam” or the “Bourbon Street cam” online and learning about the city’s history and architecture. I even try to speak a little French, like the Mardi Gras saying “Laissez les bon temps rouler,” or “Let the good times roll”!