I might be a first-year student, but I’m no stranger to Carnival season. As Baton Rougeians, my family made the yearly trek down to New Orleans to experience the most extravagant parades in Louisiana, as well as partaking in local Baton Rouge parades. As a member of the Class of 2026, 91% of my classmates are not from Louisiana and most have never experienced the wonderfully unique holiday that is Mardi Gras. Now that I’m at Tulane, my former Mardi Gras experience is coming in handy as I help my out-of-state friends prepare for their first parade-going experience.
Discussing the traditions of Carnival Season with out-of-staters has been very eye opening. I grew up knowing very few people who were not born-and-raised Louisianians, so I was used to Mardi Gras– and Louisiana culture in general –being common knowledge. From conversations I’ve had with non-Louisianian friends, I have discovered that some aspects of Mardi Gras are surprising, and even confusing, to those who did not grow up experiencing them. To save you from this confusion, dear reader, I am here to debrief you on things that you may observe during your first Mardi Gras. Allons!
1. Other Places in Louisiana Celebrate Mardi Gras
It’s understandable that one might believe Mardi Gras only happens in New Orleans. However, the spirit of Carnival season pumps through all the veins of Louisiana. For example, Baton Rouge’s beloved Spanish Town parade is a pink flamingo themed parade in which vulgar and profane floats roll through the city, similar to Krewe Du Vieux. Smaller towns in Louisiana celebrate Mardi Gras with parades as well, and though these affairs are less extravagant than New Orleans, they are just as fun. The thrill is the same, (“That Butt Thing” blasting from speakers, daiquiris, you know the vibes), but with less crowds and traffic. A good visual of these parades is the TikTok that went viral last year of a man dancing to “Thinking With My D*ck” by Kevin Gates at a parade in Lafayette. Speaking of Lafayette, and Cajun Country in general, let’s talk about Courir de Mardi Gras. Courir is a Cajun Mardi Gras tradition in which men don costumes, ride horses through town, and chase a chicken through a field. Of course, no Cajun festivity is complete without lots of scrumptious food and Cajun dancing (speaking as a Cajun myself), so this chicken is later turned into a pot of gumbo, and enjoyed to the sweet sound of the Cajun fiddle. This tradition may be quite different from the Mardi Gras parades we see in New Orleans, but they both come from old French traditions. If you want to see Courir de Mardi Gras, drive down to Mamou or Eunice Mardi Gras day to experience it for yourself.
2. Children Often Sit on Ladders
I offhandedly mentioned to my friends that children sit on ladders during Mardi Gras, and they gasped with surprise. “Ladders? Like full-sized ladders? Why? Isn’t that dangerous?” I had never considered these questions before. I always just accepted the fact that a ladder was a small child’s place during parades. Ladders save parents’ shoulders from pain, are fun to decorate, and are just generally cute. Many parents even hand-paint the ladder seats, adorning them with monograms and glitter. Are the ladders dangerous? Maybe. I don’t know. I don’t have a kid. All I know is that personally I have never witnessed any Mardi Gras ladder-related injuries. So, dear reader, do not fret if you see small children seated high in the air. They’re perfectly fine. Just be careful not to knock them down.
3. Mardi Gras is a Catholic-ish Holiday
This is probably one of the facts I am most suprised is not common knowledge. Tulane Classmates have asked me, “you’re from Louisiana, right? I was wondering, what even is Mardi Gras? Like, why do we do it?” If you’ve wondered something along these lines, I’m here to help. Though Mardi Gras is not a solely Catholic event (it is influenced by pagan traditions) many aspects of Mardi Gras relate back to the Catholic liturgical calendar. Mardi Gras marks the last day before the Lenten Season, in which Catholics sacrifice gluttony, meat, and sin to spiritually prepare for Jesus’ death and resurrection. Mardi Gras exists as a last hurrah of sorts. The revelry and indulgent “sinfulness” of parading, singing, dancing, drinking, eating, etc. are a means of purging these desires before giving up your vices for 40 days. The day after Mardi Gras is called Ash Wednesday. On this day, Catholics attend Mass and have their foreheads marked with a cross of ashes. During Lent, Catholics are forbidden from eating meat on Fridays. For this reason, you may see churches selling catfish-dinner plates on Fridays, which I 10/10 recommend.
4. You Don’t Need to Keep Every Bead You’re Thrown
When I was a little kid, I saved every single bead I caught. Eventually, they started piling up in boxes and bags in my closet and taking up more room than my clothes. To save you from this cluttered fate, I’m here to tell you that if the bead isn’t glass or particularly unique, don’t save it. You could give it to a little kid on the parade route, throw it on the Tulane bead tree, or maybe donate it to an artist who recycles beads. However, this advice does not apply to plastic cups. If you look in any Louisianian’s kitchen cabinet, you are assured to find a plethora of Mardi Gras cups saved from many years of parade-going. If you, too, would like to fully stock your cabinet for free, save those cups!
5. Tulane Mardi Gras Fashion Is Not the Norm
In my time on this Earth, I have observed three categories of Mardi Gras outfits. The first, and most common, is your typical family Mardi Gras attire- purple, green, and gold shirts, jeans, graphic tees with jokes about king cake, maybe a headband or fun makeup. Easy, fun, simple, classic. The next category is parade-goers who love to go all out- sequins, wigs, headdresses, elaborate makeup, props, crazy handmade hats, long robes, the whole shebang. Many in this category also belong to a Krewe or two. Finally, we have the category you may be most familiar with- Tulane Mardi Gras fashion. I would label this as general college Mardi Gras fashion, but in my experience, even LSU students don’t go as hard with fashion as this school does. Tulanians make TikToks showcasing their outfits, usually bought from Princess Polly or DollsKill, and plan out these fits months in advance. It’s a week-long fashion show, and I genuinely love it. However, the juxtaposition of family Mardi Gras fashion and Tulane Mardi Gras fashion, admittedly, is kinda funny. An eight-year-old dressed in a “Throw Me Something Mister!” t-shirt standing next to a college student who looks like she just left Coachella, both screaming for the same plastic beads… it’s a silly sight. But, hey, what is Mardi Gras if not silly? So, as you stress about planning your Mardi Gras outfits, rest assured that you would fit in just as well on the parade route in a t-shirt and jeans.
I hope you found this little guide helpful! Remember that Mardi Gras is all about enjoying life and living extravagantly, so make the most of these next few weeks and don’t sweat the small stuff! Laizzes les bon temps rouler 😊