Mardi Gras translates to ‘Fat Tuesday’ in French, and falls on the last day of Carnival and the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. It’s all about colourful floats, masks, marching bands and strands of beads being hurled around. Sound like your scene? Here are five top places to celebrate Mardi Gras in the USA.
New Orleans, Louisiana
We have to start with the obvious: New Orleans is the most famous place to celebrate Mardi Gras, attracting around 1.4 million visitors. The Big Easy threw its first official Mardi Gras festival back in 1837 with a masked ball, and today it hosts the States’ biggest party with over 50 parades.
The celebrations start well before Mardi Gras, with some of the biggest parades occurring in the two weeks before Fat Tuesday. St. Charles Avenue is the best place for families, whereas the French Quarter is more suited to adults. Remember to wear a costume, or a mask, to get involved in the celebrations.
Not far from New Orleans, Mobile hosts the original Mardi Gras. The former capital of French Louisiana, Mobile was the first place in the States to celebrate Fat Tuesday, throwing the festival in 1703 and continuing to do so until the capital was moved to New Orleans, who took over the tradition. Mobile picked up the Mardi Gras celebrations again in 1866.
One million visitors come to Mobile each year with around 35 parades to watch in the run up to Lent. The highlight is Joe Cain Day on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, which celebrates the man who brought the celebrations back to Mobile after the Civil War. If you want to give a nod to your host city, the signature colours of Mobile are purple and gold.
St Louis, Missouri
The second largest Mardi Gras in the US, St Louis is another city with French roots to have kept hold of the celebratory traditions. Most of the parades take place in the French-founded Soulard District, the oldest neighbourhood in the city.
The main event is the Grand Parade, which involves more than 100 floats, it begins at the Busch Stadium and ends at the Anheuser-Busch Brewery. At the end of January, there’s also the Wiener Dog Derby, in which St Louis’ dachshunds race against each other, as the city celebrates its German heritage, in a less-than-conventional fashion.
San Francisco, California
San Fran’s biggest Mardi Gras celebrations kick off in the Fillmore District with a massive street party. The party features street performers and a masquerade ball, plus plenty of New-Orleans-meets-San Francisco fusion food.
This year, the ‘Mardi Gras, San Francisco Style’ celebrations start with a free blues concert at the Fillmore Centre Plaza. Then there’s more live music, face painting for kids and processions through the streets.
Another of the States’ biggest Mardi Gras celebrations (the third largest after New Orleans and Mobile), Galveston puts on over 23 parades, 40 concerts and countless balcony parties, as well as five masked balls over 12 days.
One of the most notable parades is the Mystic Krewe of Aquarius, which takes place in the Strand District on Fat Tuesday. There’s also Family Gras on Sundays, with pets and children’s parades.