By Dave G. Houser
Mardi Gras season is here once again, and while New Orleans is the American epicenter of this festive pre-Lenten celebration, there are plenty of other options for some fantastically fun Fat Tuesday revelry (February 28 in 2017).
Of course, different locales bring their own unique flavor to the merrymaking. But there are similar elements that are certain to be found wherever you join the party.
For example, people will be wearing all kinds of colorful masks and costumes (traditional colors are purple, gold and green). And the main event of celebrations is a gala parade (usually more than one), featuring floats, musicians, and costumed marchers. In addition, corollary events might include dances, fancy balls, and cook-offs.
Ready for some partying?
Well then, here are seven places not named New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras. Laissez les bons temps rouler!
Home to the first Mardi Gras in America, the bonne temps have rolled in this Gulf Coast city since 1703. Consequently, dozens of parades and events celebrate this rich history over a two-week period leading up to Fat Tuesday. In any case, tour the Mobile Carnival Museum for a look at the gowns, crowns, scepters and robes of the city’s Mardi Gras Kings and Queens.
www.mobile.org; (251) 208-2000
Lake Charles, Louisiana
By and large, just about any Louisiana community worth its gumbo has some sort of Fat Tuesday celebration. But the state’s second largest Mardi Gras holds forth in Lake Charles – officially known as Mardi Gras of Southwest Louisiana.
Festivities kicked off on January 6 with the Twelfth Night celebration, and continue through Fat Tuesday. In fact, nearly 150,000 celebrants come together for the parades, music, and food. Still, it’s a family-friendly affair, with alcohol- and tobacco-free zones along parade routes.
Additionally, the city’s Imperial Calcasieu Museum celebrates the event year-round, with the world’s largest display of Mardi Gras costumes and regalia.
www.visitlakecharles.org/swlamardigras; (800) 456-7952
While local promoters bill it as the “greatest free party on earth,” this Cajun and Creole-flavored Carnival celebration isn’t nearly as raucous, risqué or crowded as New Orleans.
Here in Acadiana, residents traditionally celebrated Carnival with the unique “Courir de Mardi Gras,” or Mardi Gras Run. During it masked men on horseback would roam the countryside singing songs, dancing and begging for ingredients to make gumbo. Consequently, homeowners would throw chickens to the begging maskers who would attempt to catch the birds for gumbo meat.
This tradition is re-staged each year along with numerous parades leading up to Fat Tuesday’s big show. You can celebrate it at Clark Field Stadium.
www.lafayettetravel.com/mardi-gras; (800) 346-1958
N’awlins and other Louisiana Mardi Gras celebrations have nothing on their Mississippi neighbors to the east.
In fact, from Pascagoula to Bay St. Louis, cities and towns along Highway 90 throw Fat Tuesday celebrations. Furthermore, they rank among the most festive anywhere.
Biloxi, home to the Gulf Coast Carnival Association, is the center of festivities along the Coast. Its King d’Iberville and Queen Ixolib serve as official royalty of the Gulf Coast Mardi Gras. Accordingly, the city hosts 24 parades and parties aplenty.
Of course, also take time to visit Biloxi’s Mardi Gras Museum, which traces the 300-year history of Mardi Gras on the Gulf Coast.
www.gulfcoastcarnivalassociation.com; (228) 432-8806
Regrettably, Mardi Gras is not widely observed in the Sunshine State. On the other hand, in Pensacola Mardi Gras is a major event and has been celebrated there since 1874. Consequently, the Grand Mardi Gras Parade (on February 25 this year) has become downtown Pensacola’s largest annual event, drawing some 6,000 participants and attracting more than 100,000 spectators.
www.pensacolamardigras.com; (850) 434-7777
By and large, Texas is well-known for doing things up big. Consequently, the 106th annual Mardi Gras celebration on Galveston Island will be no exception.
In fact, it’s the Lone Star State’s largest, and it’s said to be one of the largest in the nation. Presently it boasts a whopping 22 parades, 30 concerts, five elegant masked balls and who knows how many parties.
Just about everywhere, the extravagance of any Mardi Gras is measured in beads. In Galveston, organizers claim more than three million of them will be thrown during the two weeks of festivities.
www.mardigrasgalveston.com; (866) 505-4456
St. Louis, Missouri
It might seem a surprise that one of the nation’s biggest Mardi Gras celebrations takes place in this Midwestern city. However, it’s a legacy thing, linked to the founding of St Louis by French fur traders back in 1764.
Moreover, French customs and traditions live on in St. Louis (the fleur-de-lis serves as the city seal). Consequently, come February the city’s Soulard District is always ready for a Mardi Gras bash.
Of course, there are parades with the biggie being the Bud Light Grand Parade on February 25. Also, there’s a long list of fun events that take place in the weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday. Among them are the Beggin’ Barkus Pet Parade (North America’s largest animal parade), a softball tournament, a 5K run, wine and beer tasting, and a variety of culinary events including a Cajun cook-off.
http://stlmardigras.org/; (314) 771-5110