When Philly native Clare Pelino was thinking about bringing her five year old daughter Isabel to New Orleans for a visit, she asked when the practice parades start for Mardi Gras, thinking that would be a good time to visit. Like so many people, she had no idea that Mardi Gras was an entire season of individual events, not just a single party day in New Orleans.
Carnival officially kicks off on Twelfth Night, January 6th, marked by parties all over town: the ride of Joan of Arc on horseback in the Quarter and a streetcar full of The Phunny Phorty Phellows who toss the first Mardi Gras beads along St. Charles Avenue. Parades, balls and pageantry gain momentum in the weeks to follow, with King Cakes, costume parties and parades leading up to Mardi Gras day, Fat Tuesday, which falls on February 17, 2015.
St. Anne marchers on Mardi Gras day — Photo courtesy of Beth D'Addono
Forget the usual b-roll of drunken, flashing tourists on Bourbon Street. The real Mardi Gras is a family affair marked by long-held traditions, special food and drink, and open houses in neighborhoods all around town, especially those on the parade routes.
While most of us aren't in the inner circle invited to fancy balls and parties, everybody can come to the parades organized by krewes, the social clubs that work seriously all year on themes, floats and costumes. Besides the trinity of super krewes – elaborate and monumental parades organized by Rex, Endymion and Bacchus – there are more than 50 parades in and around New Orleans, celebrations prized for their authentic New Orleans vibe.
The first big parade is the always irreverent Krewe du Vieux (Jan. 31), a satirical march through the Marigny and French Quarter of decorated, hand or mule-drawn floats dripping with double entrendre and sass.
For sheer underdog charm, don't miss ‘tit Rəx (Feb. 7), an artsy krewe that boasts shoebox-sized mini-floats which are pulled by hand through the St. Roch neighborhood into the Marigny. The parade’s name comes from the Cajun abbreviation of petite, used before the name of a younger of two people.
The Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus (Feb. 7) is a sci-fi themed parade that travels through the Marigny. It's a spectacle of self-propelled float contraptions built onto bicycles, homemade trailers and shopping carts.
No dog lover can resist Krewe Of Barkus (Feb. 8), a French Quarter parade of four-legged critters, all in costume of course. Muses (Feb. 12) is one of the most popular all-women krewes, known for their coveted decorated shoe throws.
Muses is one of the splashiest all-women krewes known for its shoe themes — Photo courtesy of Beth D'Addono
And on Mardi Gras Day, the brilliantly costumed march of Societé de Saint Anne is a full-on display of nutty creatives that collect marchers from Bywater into the French Quarter, stopping at bars for celebrating along the way.
The dates for all parades change from year to year; this guide is one good place to get updated info.