Mardi Gras is more than just a holiday in the South—it’s an entire season that runs from November through Ash Wednesday. It’s a way of life, and it’s something folks look forward to year-round. Though it’s most popular in Louisiana and South Alabama (especially in its birthplace of Mobile), Southerners across the region take part in the merrymaking and revelry that culminates on Fat Tuesday (February 13 this year). With origins dating back to the early 1700s, Mardi Gras has had quite a while to build up loads of quirky traditions and meaningful customs that make this holiday the certifiable spectacle it is. If you’re new to the holiday or maybe just need a refresher on all the festive fun, check out these seven Mardi Gras traditions Southerners make sure to uphold every year.
Eat King Cake
If you don’t have at least one slice of king cake before Fat Tuesday, you’re doing something wrong. Starting on Epiphany (January 6), these frosted brioche rings can be found everywhere from local bakeries and grocery stores to office break rooms and neighborhood parties. Often filled with cream cheese, cinnamon, chocolate, or fruit, they’re always decked out in green, purple, and gold from either colored glaze or sprinkles. A king cake isn’t a king cake without a plastic baby tucked inside. According to tradition, whoever gets the slice with the baby earns good favor for the coming year and is tasked with buying the king cake for next year’s get together.
Join The Big Parade
Parading is a big part of the Carnival tradition. In cities like New Orleans and Mobile, hundreds of parading organizations and krewes sponsor floats for dozens of parades that take place over the course of Mardi Gras season. Marching bands and jazz bands provide the soundtrack for the festive event, while crowds that number into the thousands line the streets to see the show. Whether you’re walking in a parade, riding a float, or just joining the audience, attending a Mardi Gras parade is a must.
Attend A Grand Ball
Every year, krewes recognize two young adults as the year’s Mardi Gras king and queen, and the pair is presented at a grand ball that typically includes a lavish coronation, live bands, dancing, and celebrating well into the night. In cities that are big on Mardi Gras traditions, it’s easy to find an acquaintance who’s involved in a krewe and snag an invite.
Dress To Impress
Purple, green, and gold are the official colors of Mardi Gras and are said to symbolize justice (purple), power (gold), and faith (green). For the holiday, everyone comes dressed in the trio of colors. If you’re walking in a parade, every manner of glitter, sequin, sparkle, and feather is required for outlandish costumes that fit your krewe’s parading theme, and masks (a tradition that started so that celebrators could mingle outside their social class) are always present.
Plastic beads are synonymous with the holiday, but they’re not the only thing that float riders throw during parades. Throws come in all shapes and sizes and can include anything from stuffed animals and custom gold doubloons to candy and even coconuts. Watch your head!
Let Flambeaux Light The Way
Every true Mardi Gras parade is led by Flambeaux, torch-bearers who light the way for the coming procession. The tradition arose out of necessity for revelers to see parades that took place at night. Flambeaux often twirl or throw their lit torches for a little extra flame-filled flair.
Snack On A Moon Pie
The plush, marshmallow-filled snack cake got its start when it was suggested as an alternative throw to Cracker Jack boxes for Mobile Mardi Gras parades. Somehow the sweet treat stuck, and today it’s part of the Mardi Gras cannon. In Mobile, the new year is rung in every year with the dropping of a giant Moon Pie.
First published by Southern Living - read the article here.