February 11 2010 by Karla Henriquez
Mardi Gras is the culmination of Carnival and believe it or not, it's a family event! While many people think of the revelry on Bourbon Street when they think of Mardi Gras, there is actually so much more that goes on in New Orleans during the entire carnival season and on Fat Tuesday! Kids love to see the elaborate Mardi Gras floats, and they especially love to catch throws - beads, stuffed animals, and other trinkets and toys. Here's the skinny on the history of Mardi Gras and how to find family friendly parades and activities.
Carnival was in the beginning a medieval European religious celebration, the first day being 12th Night or the night of the Epiphany. It was first celebrated in New Orleans way back in 1730. Today, there are parades, balls, and events from 12th Night through the day of Mardi Gras, which is also called Fat Tuesday or the Day of Indulgence. It's a day to eat up all the sweets and things you are planning on giving up the next day, Ash Wednesday.
All of the parades and balls that go on during the Mardi Gras season are sponsored by social clubs, some of which have been around for over two hundred years. It's the dedication of the members of these clubs that keep Mardi Gras going year after year and provides the rest of us with an amazing free show!
So... where do you go if you want to take your family to celebrate Carnival? There is actually only one place to stay away from - Bourbon Street. Check out the 2010 carnival parade schedule for information and avoid the parades that are specifically denoted as adult themed. The most family friendly parades may be the ones that happen in towns surrounding New Orleans, like Metairie or Slidell. In Metairie, one of the earlier parades in the season is even sponsored by a children's club called Little Rascals. While these parades may be most family-friendly, consider catching some of what happens in New Orleans itself. Families from the city have been meeting on lawns along Canal Street for generations to view the floats and collect throws. If you are going to be in the city on Fat Tuesday itself, you will not want to miss the Parade of Rex, which is the principle Mardi Gras parade, and features the King of Mardi Gras.
Families should be prepared for the crowds that attend all of these parades - have a plan to meet up somewhere if you get separated. Other tips: bring bags to carry home your loot, dress appropriately for the weather, take food and water, and be prepared to have a great time!
When you're not watching a parade, which is the one thing you definitely have to do during Carnival, you may want to check out the city's zoo, insectarium, or aquarium and take a paddleboat ride down the river! You shouldn't miss touring the older parts of the city for the opportunity to admire New Orleans' unique architecture and its historic sites. You may even want to catch mass at St. Louis cathedral. Another must-do is to eat King's Cake. This is a long-standing Carnival tradition and involves eating a cake with a baby Jesus hidden inside of it. In New Orleans, the person who finds the baby in his or her piece is supposed to host the next King's Cake party.
What better way to break up the winter than to head to New Orleans this year for Carnival? With the Saints Super Bowl win, Carnival 2010 is sure to be extra guilded.