There are a variety of destinations that celebrate Carnival every year. Each has its own flavor, but New Orleans is the location that comes to mind when you hear the term Mardi Gras. Made up of about 16 days of parades and parties, this annual event has been referred to as the “Greatest Free Show on Earth”. While there is no need for tickets, one should be prepared to fight the crowds for the attention of the Krewe members on the floats.

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Interesting outfits are commonplace for the Krewe balls.

Party Central

Visiting the Presbytére Museum offers a glimpse at the history and regalia of Mardi Gras. The museum has two floors of artifacts, with the first floor being dedicated to galleries about Hurricane Katrina’s impact on the city. (You can read about the Katrina exhibit here.) The second floor is all about the greatest free show on earth. The first Mardi Gras parade took place in 1857 with just one Krewe (sponsoring social group). This annual tradition began with only a handful of floats . They followed it with a ball, which is another highly anticipated event. Formal balls had been a New Orleans Mardi Gras tradition since the 1740’s. These high society events were elegant extravaganzas designed to celebrate the coming of Lent.

Marching bands are a staple of Mardi Gras parades.

Parade Requirement

If you have ever visited New Orleans, you know how much music has become part of everyday life. During our last visit, we not only witnessed one of the street parades, we were in one. For the Greatest Free Show on Earth, they assemble entire marching bands to lead the way. Bedecked in glittering uniforms, they blast out tunes to get the crowd engaged. The party atmosphere really kicks in when the marching bands pass by.

All types of throws are tossed from floats during the Mardi Gras parades.

Throw It To Me!

When people hear the name Mardi Gras, their thoughts conjure up images of beads being thrown out to the crowds. Would it surprise you to find out that there are a variety of throws that are tossed to the thousands of revelers? Besides the various beads, parade participants dispense toys, trinkets, and doubloons. The doubloons are a modern day version of the medallions that were once tossed to the open hands of the eager crowds. These two-sided coins will usually have the Krewe’s emblem on one side and the parade theme on the other. If you are really lucky, you might just snag on of the custom throws that are periodically tossed out. These could include coconuts, shoes, purses or even genie lamps. These ornately decorated trinkets are considered prize possessions by those lucky enough to get one.

Greatest Free Show On Earth

The Mardi Gras exhibit at the Presbytére Museum tries to give visitors the perspective of those riding on the floats. We can only imagine the non-stop calls and cries for attention that fall on them through the entire parade route. Being part of the Greatest Free Show on Earth would certainly be fun, but at the same time it could be exhausting. From our point of view, we will stick to being on the street side of the event. Would you want to be a Krewe member?

The greatest free show on earth is a great place to find the colors purple, gold, and green.

Mardi Gras Colors

Many recognize that purple, gold, and green seem to dominate the color palate during Mardi Gras. The colors can be traced back to the first Rex parade. Each color was chosen to represent a specific symbol. Purple represents Justice. Gold represents Power. Green represents Faith. These three colors were established in 1872, and are now found all throughout the city during Mardi Gras.

Amazing ball gowns are worn by the Krewe members attending formal balls.

Krewe Royalty

So you think the parades are all that happen during Mardi Gras. Would it surprise you to find out that there are other tradition events that take place during the Greatest Free Show on Earth? Some of these are private affairs that are planned for an entire year. Each Krewe will hold a ball, which is hosted by the king and queen. While these are not usually open to the public, most people are not bothered by the lack of an invitation.

An exhibit displays a variety of the royal jewels that have been used by Krewe kings and queens.

Taking Bedazzled to Another Level

Speaking of the king and queen of the Krewes, what would royalty be without their crowned jewels? As we made our way through the exhibits at the Presbytére, we came upon a series of cases filled with all sorts of royal artifacts. These are from various Krewe balls of the past and are amazing in detail. It shows just how serious the business of Mardi Gras is to those involved. You won’t want to miss seeing these glittering pieces.

Crystal inspects the Mardi Gras countdown table.

Always Counting Down

Near the end of the exhibit, we came upon the countdown clock for the next Mardi Gras season. In New Orleans they are always looking forward to the next good party. We haven’t made it to an actual Mardi Gras parade, but we were fortunate enough to attend another holiday event. One of our previous visits took place during St. Patrick’s Day. It may have only been a one night parade, but it was amazing to behold. After successfully navigating that experience, we are now prepared to take it to the next level. Have you ever been to a Mardi Gras parade? We’d love to hear about your experience!

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