Carnival season has officially begun! The first parade looms around the corner! Truly the best time to be in New Orleans is over the next few weeks. However, the season is associated with moral depravity, drinking, and sex. Though a lot of drinking occurs, Carnival is surprisingly a family affair. There are many misconceptions about Mardi Gras in New Orleans. More than just Mardi Gras Day, Fat Tuesday, the season contains 53 parades over three weeks. Even dogs have their own parade, Barcchus. At all of these parades you will see kids on ladders reaching for beads. Thanks to good security by NOPD there are rarely violent incidences at parades and are safe for everyone. Truthfully, the closer to Bourbon one goes, the more adult the celebration.
Carnival is my favorite time of year because everyone, despite socioeconomic background and daily routine, comes together to enjoy each other and the costumed revelers on floats. To be able to ride a float one must be a member of a krewe, a social club. Krewes are quite secretive. Members wear masks on the floats. Carnival balls are formal, decadent and by invitation only. The themes behind each krewe’s parade are not revealed until parade day. Floats are hidden and members are sworn to secrecy. It is the secrecy and exclusive nature of these clubs that have caused uproar. Many of these clubs were all male and white, conducting business behind closed doors. Forcing them open, a New Orleans city ordinance was passed in 1992 ordering krewes to open their membership or that krewe’s parade would be cancelled. In reaction Rex opened its membership, while Comus and Momus, the oldest krewes, refused and have not paraded since. While 15 krewes went out of commission, 11 new krewes have since arisen, including two of my favorite parades, Knights of Chaos and Muses.
Parades today are a mix of fantastical and satirical themes. Day parades are modeled for children, stocked with plenty of colorful beads and plush toys. Families are found at night parades, but many of these parades have political themes. The Knights of Chaos’s theme last year was “Breaking Wind.” Each float commented on corrupt local politics and other local issues like rebuilding. Each float made reference to the flatulence theme in its decoration and personalized throws. Less offensive was Muses’ Superheroes/comic book theme. Though attacking a wide range of issues from inactive politicians to Katrina depression, the satire of Muses consistently maintains a hopeful outlook on New Orleans’ future. Each float represented a different villain and SuperMuses, who saves the day. Throws include plush shoes, unique beads, comic books, toothbrushes, key chains, lipstick and the prized Muses shoe. Each krewe member decorates a shoe and gives it out to a special parade-goer. One of my friends was blessed with this prize last year. Muses being the only all female krewe, I had three of my male friends write “I LOVE MUSES” on their chests. As each float passed the guys would lift their shirts “flashing” the ladies, who loved our ironic celebration and showered us with trinkets.
The goal of each krewe is to entertain and astound. The goal of each parade-goer is to have fun screaming for beads and partying with the rest of the city. If you choose to visit for Carnival, remember that everyone just wants to have fun, let loose. Keep your clothes on, (there are children about), do not drive, (because you can not get anywhere anyway), and do not fight over beads, (it is just plastic). The best times happen between parades when all the kids toss their plush footballs, an extremely popular throw for any parade, and everyone mingles like family. So come join the celebration and meet some New Orleanians. We promise you a great time.