Family-friendly Mardi Gras?
Call me naïve, but until multiple visits to Louisiana, I had no idea that family-friendly Mardi Gras celebrations existed. I thought that Marti Gras was an adult-rated, hedonistic New Orleans-only ritual. I envisioned insane partying, bead-throwing debauchery and XXX costumes.
Sure, I knew that Mardi Gras–French for ‘Fat Tuesday’–started as a religious holiday. Fat Friday is thought to be the one final day to “let it all hang out” before Lent. Or as they say in NOLA*, “Laissez les bon temps rouler” (Let the good times roll.) I did not know that there were other versions—family-friendly Mardi Gras celebrations—outside of New Orleans.
*NOLA = New Orleans, LA
What is Mardi Gras?
Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday is celebrated the day before Lent begins. Lent always starts on Ash Wednesday, 46 days before Easter. Lent is the season when the pious give up meat, favorite foods or otherwise abstain from pleasure until Easter morn.
That makes Fat Tuesday the time to clean out the cupboards and eat–or drink–all you’re going to fast from in the coming weeks.
Mardi Gras happens all around Louisiana, not just in NOLA
During my visits to Louisiana, I was surprised to find throughout the state so many family-friendly Mardi Gras parades and Carnival celebrations, each with its local flavor. Parents have a plethora of choices of Mardi Gras for Kids including fun ‘King CAkes,’ a Mardi Gras tradition.
Many Mardi Gras Parades: One Common Denominator
Although each regional Mardi Gras celebration is unique, there is one common denominator: you, as part of the audience, are expected to participate. Making the interactive experience a perfect Mardi Gras for Kids.
“Mardi Gras is not a spectator sport,” cautions Mardi Gras expert Robert Trudeau. You must participate. According to Trudeau, in medieval Europe, flowers and sweets were tossed to onlookers during orderly street parades. In contrast, raucous behavior, including throwing eggs and flour, mocking authorities, and dressing as the opposite sex was also acceptable. Today, beads are tossed from parade floats to merrymakers on the street who “earn” the beads by performing crazy antics.
BTW, Robert Trudeau is author of How to Mardi Gras: An Introduction to Carnival, Parades, Krewes, Food, Music, Costumes, Cajuns, Creoles. You can click to Amazon to read more about this enjoyable book.
Mardi Gras for Kids: Zest For Shenanigans
Protestants in Shreveport-Bossier in the northwest corner of the state, have borrowed the Catholic Mardi Gras tradition. Zeal and zest for shenanigans are still essential elements of the northern Carnival season, but Mardi Gras organizers emphasize family fun.
Many Shreveport-Bossier family-friendly Mardi Gras Carnival celebrations include parades that take place in the afternoon during daylight hours, kid-themed parades, and major parade routes with alcohol-free “family zones.”
Kid-friendly Mardi Gras
One of the biggest neighborhood Mardi Gras parades in Louisiana, The Krewe of Highland XIX Parade in Shreveport, is known for its unique and quirky “throws.” Besides beads of all sorts, those on the dramatically decorated floats throw Spam sandwiches, Moon Pies, tacos, spaghetti with meatballs and hotdogs complete with mustard and ketchup.
Flying Meatballs at Shreveport-Bossier's Mardi Gras for Kids and Adults
“That’s not something that you’ll see [flying meatballs] in any other Mardi Gras parade,” touts Brandy Evans, Vice President of Communications at the visitor bureau in Shreveport-Bossier. Contemplating whether I would be brave enough to catch a flying hotdog or meatball, Brandy explained that the spaghetti and meatballs, created by a gourmet chef, are in Ziploc bags and that the hot dogs are wrapped in tinfoil when thrown.
What’s cool is that whole neighborhoods come out, making the parade a three-mile-long family block party. Onlookers arrive from all over the country to join the family fun.
Mardi Gras in the Heartland
Audience participation on the sidewalk is also part of Mardi Gras fun in Louisiana’s heartland. The secret to success is eye contact with the thrower.
“If someone on a float sees a child, they will throw to the child,” details Kelli West formerly of Alexandria and Pineville. In other words, you won’t have to bare body parts to get a “throw” in this family-friendly Mardi Gras parade. The military-proud community supports several Mardi Gras parades suitable for all members of the family.
Kid-friendly Mardi Gras in New Orleans
According to the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, families should head to Uptown NOLA, which is the best location for families to use as their base during Mardi Gras. While there is no lack of excitement, this part of the parade route is more restrained than celebrations held downtown.
Mardi Gras, also known as the Carnival season, is in full swing now and ends at midnight on Tuesday, February 25.
A version of this story first appeared in UNSTOPPABLE Stacey’s travel column published in Pinewood News in February 2015. The article was updated and revised this week.
As is common in the travel industry, UNSTOPPABLE Stacey was provided with accommodations, meals, and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the Arizona travel writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.
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