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What is Mardi Gras?

Mardi Gras has become synonymous with raucous partying that includes beads, masks, krewes, and parades (and of course, free flowing libations) and can be found lighting up New Orleans (and other fun-loving places) in early February or March. Mardi Gras is a French term that literally means Fat Tuesday, a time for eating rich fatty foods (sounds like a hella great time to us).

In other places like the UK, it is also known as Strove (or shrive) Tuesday which literally means “confess” (Bo, What a buzzkill). You may also hear of it referred to in Brazil and other Latin countries as Carnevale (yay, the party’s back!).

Mardi Gras has been called  “Greatest free party on Earth”.

Through Carnevale is sometimes printed or pronounced Carnival – a name that is associated with delightful, innocent fun– it is actually derived from the Latin “farewell to the flesh”, or the taking away of meat.

Mardi Gras actually has quite a fascinating and fun history. You might have wondered how it got started and eventually evolved into the celebrations we see around the world today. Well, the good news is—we know the answers to your Mardi Gras questions! Keep reading and we’ll fill you in on all the hot Mardi Gras gossip.

The Origins of Mardi Gras


Brass Band Brassanimals What is Mardi gras
The origins of Mardi Gras​

Given it’s hard-partying ways, it might be hard to believe that Mardi Gras has religious roots. Though the last day of it is celebrated before the Roman Catholic period known as Lent and it is typically associated with those religious traditions, it’s celebrations are rooted in orgy and alcohol-fueled pagan spring fertility rites (Roman Lupercalia and Druid customs) that long pre-date Christianity.

Once Christianity became all the rage in Rome (around the 3rd or 4th century), Christendom blended pagan customs into their traditions so that pagan people would be more apt to accept it as the official religion.

Lent is a 40-day period of fasting and penance– hence the wildin’ out and hardcore fattening up of fat Tuesday, the day before the partying stops. It lasts from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday.

As a result, the excessive partying of Mardi Gras (pagan Lupercalia) came to be a prelude to the more austere Lent season (Roman Catholicism/Christianity). And once this new christianity spread its way around Europe, the Mardi Gras traditions went with it.

Mardi Gras goes to America


Brass Band Brassanimals What is Mardi gras

How did Mardi Gras make its way to America and specifically New Orleans? As was mentioned, Mardi Gras bopped around Europe, making itself home mainly in Catholic countries like France. On March 3, 1699, two French explorers, Sieur de Bienville and Pierre Le Moyne d’ Iberville, made it all the way to the area we now call Louisiana, landing close to where New Orleans would be built. The day they landed, they celebrated finally getting off that cursed boat, kissed dry land (possible we made that part up) and named the spot Point du Mardi Gras. French settlers that followed over the decades also treated that day as a holiday and celebrated it with masked balls, street parties, and decadent meals. As long as Louisiana was under French rule, the good times kept rolling. In 1763, Spain took over the area and put a real crimp in the debauchery, banning Mardi Gras because they felt that things were getting too out of control. The ban remained in effect into the 1800s, until the French Creole population insisted that Mardi Gras was a must. It was reinstituted, Mardi Gras has been called the “greatest free party on earth”

Though Carnevale is sometimes printed or pronounced Carnival—a name that is associated with delightful, innocent fun– it is actually derived from the Latin “farewell to the flesh”, or the taking away of meat.

Lent is a 40-day period of fasting and penance—hence the wildin’ out and hardcore fattening up of Fat Tuesday,
the day before the partying stops. It lasts from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. and everyone went buck-wild with it, causing a cap to be put on the fun so it didn’t become one year-
round party.

The Mardi Gras evolution


Brass Band Brassanimals What is Mardi gras

Some sources say that many of the colorful traditions of Mardi Gras were started by a group of fun-loving college kids who came back from Paris and feeling inspired by what they had seen there, whooped it up. They danced through the streets of New Orleans wearing colorful masks and costumes. Well, who could resist an amazing outdoor costume dance party? Nobody in 19th century Louisiana could that’s for sure, and so others joined in the fun. In 1837, the first Mardi Gras parade marched down the streets of New Orleans and they haven’t stopped since.

Starting in the 19th century, Mardi Gras went from simple street parties to many of the elaborate affairs we see today. The men of an organization known as Comus were the ones that brought krewes (they called themselves Ye Mistick Krewe of Comus), themed parades, costumed masqueraders, and parade floats to the festivities.

Soon after other krewes formed. These sort of secret and pretty exclusive organizations put on Mardi Gras parades and elaborate balls. Members had to pay fees to join, sometimes thousands of dollars, but were given exclusive VIP access to Mardi Gras galas.

In 1871 the first bean cake (known as a King cake) was presented to a young, unmarried woman who was declared the Mardi Gras Queen, starting the royal traditions of the festivities.

The bean cake idea was actually derived from ancient tribal customs related to spring rites.

The party-innovators of 1872 wanted to flesh out the royal court a bit, so Mardi Gras Queens had a Rex, or King of the Carnival added to the fun. He wore the now traditional gold, green, and purple, and even had his own royal anthem “If I Ever Cease to Love”.

The King’s Ball  was held on Twelfth Night (the 12th night after Christmas, January 6th) and kicked off the ball-throwing season. Traditionally, a bean cake was cut during this party and the lucky winner had to throw the next ball.

Not long after, tossing beads and other trinkets from floats became popular. The crowds were all in. They grew in size, waiting for floats to pass by and yelling “Throw me something mister”, trying to score one of the coveted trinkets.

Mardi Gras in modern times


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The partying of Mardi Gras was so epic that not even some of the worst periods in history could kill its festive spirit. It survived through World War I, Prohibition, The Great Depression, and even World War II, coming out the other side not just unscathed, but bigger and wilder than ever. Here are some of the traditions that you’ll find in today’s Mardi Gras Celebrations.

  • Mardi Gras balls:
    After Christmas, it’s a gala ball every night. Spectacular affairs full of glittering and elaborate costumes (would you expect anything less?) are thrown by various krewes. Royal courts are chosen ahead of time and not revealed until the ball. Not content to just have a king or queen, everyone eventually wanted to get in on the royal action. Today, ladies-in-waiting, The bean cake idea was actually derived from ancient tribal customs related to spring rites. lieutenants, maids, and other “royalty” are chosen to make up a full royal court. In recent years, celebrities including Hollywood actors have been chosen for this regal honor.
  • King cakes:
    Not just for one lucky girl or future ball-hosters anymore, these days it is served to all unmarried women at Mardi Gras banquets. They may contain beans or baby figurines (which represents Christ as a child). It is also a popular custom for employers of office workers to bring a King cake to their employees. The winner (or loser?) has to buy a cake for the office the next day.
  • Tableaux:
    Dating back to medieval times, tableaux were show-like pageants put on where actors played out or wore customs to become living illustrations representing scenes from history and mythology. They were held on the day of a king or queen’s coronation and might be done in a parade-like fashion. All-night festivities followed. Today, similar tableaux are performed during Mardi Gras balls, and following medieval tradition, culminate in the coronation of the king and queen. After the royal court is presented, everyone dances and parties on til the break of dawn.
  • The Skull and Bone Gang:
    Going back to 1819, this gang had its roots in African spirituality. The tradition of the gang went on for some 200 years but took a brief hiatus. Now they’re back baby, and creepier than ever. If you are in the Treme neighborhood near the French Quarter and are brave enough to get up at 5am (or maybe you never even went to sleep), you might hear and see the gang coming through the neighborhood, knocking from door-to-door. Wearing skeleton customs (you can tell the chief of the gang by the antelope-eque antlers), they beat drums and dance through the streets chanting bone-chilling things like “If you don’t live right, the Bone Man is comin’ for ya”. *Shivers*
  • Mardi Gras Indians:
    Scattered throughout the city, you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of costumed Mardi Gras Indians who especially appear on Super Sunday and at the jazz festival. There are about 3 dozen “tribes” that move throughout New Orleans neighborhoods dance battling, throwing shade, and song-fighting over whose chief is the “prettiest”. In all fairness, the chiefs go all out when it comes to their uber-elaborate beaded costumes that include brightly colored ostrich feathers, sequins, velvet, and rhinestones. The very definition of fabulous.
  • Parades:
    Is it really modern Mardi Gras if there aren’t parades full of float riders throwing out colorful beads, “doubloons”, moon pies, and other trinkets? Aside from the floats, colorfully dressed second line bands march throughout the city in all their pomp, blowing trumpets and other instruments, strutting, dancing, and letting anyone who can keep up join in. The bigger parades may not allow crowd participation, but find yourself a second line parade and you can join the festivities. You may also see flambeaux carriers creating their own spectacle, twirling and dancing their way along with parades at night.
  • All out partying and revelry:
    Yup. Though you probably don’t think of Mardi Gras without thinking New Orleans, they aren’t the only ones in the celebrating. Lafayette and Lake Charles, Louisiana hold 2-week long Mardi Gras festivals complete with parades, parties, and costumes. During that time, Lake Charles also does it up right with their World Famous Cajun Extravaganza and Gumbo Cook Off. Mardi Gras has been declared an official holiday in the state of Louisiana.

Mobile, Alabama


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has claim to the oldest carnival celebrations 1703 with its own Carnival Museum that shares their history with Mardi Gras. Meanwhile, St. Louis says that they have the second biggest Mardi Gras celebration in the country, beat out only by New Orleans. Restaurants serve New Orleans style cuisine while the partying goes on with parades and balls. Orlando, Florida’s Universal Studies throws a mega-party that lasts 50 nights, complete with a parade each night and massive concerts. San Diego boasts the biggest Mardi Gras celebration on the West Coast complete with over-the-top floats and huge masquerade parades.

The Mardi Gras Celebrations Heard Round the World


Brass Band Brassanimals What is Mardi gras

  • United States
    – isn’t the only country that carries the Mardi Gras torch, many other countries hold festivities as well. Most famous is probably Rio De Janeiro’s wild Carnevale spectaculars that attract 2 million revelers to its annual blow-out. The revelry is so epic that it can be heard all the way across the Rio during peak party times.
  • Venice, Italy
    – has been in on the Carnevale action since the 12 th century, bringing 3 million revelers into the city each year. Locals wear traditional masks creatively made out of just about any material they can think of with masqueraders competing in front of judges for who wore it best.
  • French Quebec
    – carries on the tradition through their Winter Carnival, complete with fun arctic activities like icy canoe racing on the St. Lawrence River, gigantic snow sculptures, and the blasting of the red trumpet.
  • Copenhagen Denmark
    – is new to the Mardi Gras game, starting their tradition in 1982. They include traditional elements of Mardi Gras but also celebrate with one of the largest music festivals in the world. Various stages are set up throughout the city to hold the 120 bands that play and thousands of dancers that entertain the 100,000 + attendees.
  • Nice, France
    – is very nice that time of year, incorporating tradition flower parades covered in beautiful petals and paraders who wear matching colors. The parades often have elaborate and pretty unique themes, rolling on through the city day and night.
  • Canary Islands
    – love their Carnival Queen, holding a Grand Carnival Queen contest where all the young ladies wear humungous and completely spectacular customs and headdresses (some weighing more than 50 pounds!).
  • Trinidad and Tobago
    – throw highly energetic celebrations that not only include traditional brightly colored costumes but they also include exciting stick fights and fierce limbo competitions.

Well, when is Mardi Gras?


Brass Band Brassanimals What is Mardi gras

Since it’s always the Tuesday before Lent, the date varies. In 2019 it will be held on March 5 th . If you are planning for the future, 2020’s celebrations culminate on Tuesday, February 25, and in 2021 you’ll want to make plans for February 16 th . Mardi Gras is full of religious and historical significance and high-spirited revelry. Bright colors, grandiose costumes, dancing, parades, and all-out partying are the hallmarks of Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans and around the world. If you want to find out some of the best ways to celebrate, check out our blog to see how you can party with the best of em’.

The Ultimate Way to Celebrate Mardi Gras

A Southerners Guide to Celebrate Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras. Fat Tuesday. I know it as an exciting time of unrepentant energy, celebration, and alcohol. Especially the alcohol.

This holiday event is all about indulgence and jubilation, a time of excess, tasty food (beignets and jambalaya), and exotic drinks. Traditionally, this celebration is conducted before the ritual fasting of Lenten. The idea, then, is to get your eat on and drown yourself in every tasty beverage you can handle.

It’s a magical time, where everyone comes together so they can get sloppy drunk and wake up in places they don’t recognize.

If that sounds like your jam, well, good news. You’ve stumbled upon my guide for celebrating Mardi Gras the best way: your way. Sure, anyone can just waltz into a festive carnival and find themselves duking it out with a keg or three. But not you, right? You want to make the next Fat Tuesday is one to remember. Problem is, you don’t exactly know where to begin.

Well worry not connoisseur of the carnal delights. This quick-fix guide will grant you inspiration to indulge all those sordid ideas. Whether you plan on getting “I’m going to fight this shark” level drunk or just want to have fun with friends, I have you covered.

Getting Started – Plan Your Attack


The Ultimate Way to Celebrate Mardi Gras

While ‘planning’ doesn’t exactly sound like the high-octane, impulse driven celebration style you’d think with Mardi Gras, it’s still kind of important. The holiday offers something for everyone. What you want out of it is determined by what you plan to do.

Hard to catch that alcohol laced parade if you didn’t wake up in time, right? Or maybe you want a family-friendly escapade? Regardless, get some ideas together.

  • How many people do you expect to hang with?
  • What does everyone want to do?
  • What will this cost?
  • Where do you plan to go?
  • Staying in, going out, or half and half?
  • Alcohol?
  • Willing to travel?

Questions like those will keep some semblance of organization during a party day. Even a loose group of friends can get disentangled if they aren’t on the same page.

While we don’t expect you to crank out a bible of rules, it pays to prepare. Literally.

The Mardi Gras Parade


The Ultimate Way to Celebrate Mardi Gras

Once you get a solid feel for the “logistics” of your escapade, it’s on to the next big thing. No, not drinking (not yet at least). Fat Tuesday’s colorful parades are a big component of the holiday. In fact, regardless of how you plan to celebrate, we recommend catching one of these.

The vitality of crowds intermixed with amazing floats is something you don’t get to see often, so why not treat yourself? This is especially the case if you want something entertaining for everyone. Kids and adults alike can enjoy Mardi Gras parades, no matter where they plan to celebrate.

But hey, it’s one thing to want to go to one. It’s another to figure out where the best ones are. Again, we’ve got you covered.

So where are the parades? Well that’s the question: location. For the most part, the largest celebrations are conducted in New Orleans. In fact, it’s mostly here. While there are other Mardi Gras celebrations around the States, if you want elaborate parades, you go to New Orleans.

If you’re willing to travel, great! But guess what? It doesn’t stop there. There are multiple parades throughout Fat Tuesday in New Orleans. So which one to catch and where to go?

Again, it depends on what you want to see and how far you’re willing to go. Different parades occur at different times. If you’re not an early bird, chances are you and the gang want to catch events later in the evening. If the family has plans, earlier parades might help.

Still not sure? Here’s a quick resource to give you a better idea:

Mardi Gras 2019 Schedule

As you can see, there’s a whole mess of things to do and places to go. Choosing what works best for you and your schedule assures there are no slip-ups on the big day (or days, if you’re partying hard).

The Partying


The Ultimate Way to Celebrate Mardi Gras

Not in New Orleans? No problem. It’s great for the spectacle of catching colorful floats, but if you just want to find celebrations in general, you’re not restricted to New Orleans. If you want to get out and experience bead tossing, alcohol-induced fun, there are likely celebrations held in your area or near a major city.

Look, this is an excuse to eat like crazy, get stupid drunk, and hang out. At the beginning of the week, no less. If there’s a party to be had, you will find one.

But maybe that’s not your style – maybe you want to handle the party itself. Good call. Or, potentially bad call, depending on how you prepare. If you don’t do the latter, you might have a bad time. It’s all about expectations, guests, and what you want out of the big day.

If you’re planning a quaint get together with family and friends, wearing a few celebration-appropriate things topped off with a nice drink, no problem. But if you want to get dizzy in feasts and alcohol, you have to invite the right people for the right time.

So, let’s take a two-pronged approach. We’ll cover some ideas, recipes and things to do for a nice get together or a crazy night of fun.

At Home


If you’re thinking of staying at home or celebrating in a smaller way, you can still live it up without losing your mind at a friend’s party or colorful parade.

The first big thing to do then is to get your big eat on. It’s not called Fat Tuesday just for fun! Since the traditional roots of the holiday were about eating a lot and then conducting a fast, this was an opportunity to “live it up” before controlling what one ate afterward.

For this, you’re free to chow on any dishes that come to mind but consider dishes in the spirit of the big day.

May we suggest:

You can also slap together jambalaya, fried shrimp, seafood/crawfish boils, and anything else you can think of. These recipes aren’t mandatory – but if you want that authentic Mardi Gras taste, they’re certainly some of the more popular dishes.

Now that you’ve got some ideas for food – what about décor? Well, all depends on whose showing up. But let’s assume there’s a desire for festive costumes. Mardi Gras isn’t just focused on eat and drink, there’s a costumed element too.

How you want to proceed is up to you, but typical décor include masks, colorful beads, feathers, and whatever else comes to mind. If you want to feel creative and include family members (like younger kids), you can make some of these yourself. It’s a good way to get others involved and add your own personal touch to the celebration.

As a side note, if you plan to make your own stuff, we don’t recommend glitter – that’s a nightmare of a mess.

You’re free to extend this colorful array to your home as well; nothing says celebration like a canvas of different lights and mysterious attires. If you do this, we also recommend using the three primary colors associated with Mardi Gras: purple, yellow, and green. Purple for faith, yellow (or gold) for power, and green for justice.

There are plenty of other touch ups you can do for your home, but that all depends on how far you want to go. We assume that by taking the home “Netflix and chill” approach you’re just looking to hang out with friends and family. But, these touches will provide a pleasant atmosphere while you enjoy Fat Tuesday.

Oh, but we haven’t forgotten the best part. Alcohol. Since you’re at home, you probably aren’t planning to get too drunk. Or maybe you are? Whatever the case, we can also suggest drinks to make at home for the big day. Sure, you can skip that process and just buy a twelve of your favorite brand, but if you’re going to the trouble to decorate and invite, you may as well try some authentic alcohol too.

It shouldn’t surprise you Mardi Gras drinks are mixers and cocktails. Cheap beer isn’t usually found on the menu – unless you’re hanging out for the night or visiting a bar – so the idea is to douse all the delicious food with tasty drinks.

What kind? There are plenty to choose from, but for your convenience, we’ll include a recipe list.

Partying Out


Home isn’t for everyone on Mardi Gras. Maybe you’ve got a schedule to attend some big parades or you’re ready to experience the night life.

We’ve already gone over the parades, and there are plenty to choose from if you happen to be in New Orleans. But if you’re visiting and more interested in the drinking aspect, there are plenty of great taverns and bars to visit too.

Even better, some bars serve some food with your drink, so you can really get a taste for Fat Tuesday.

But hey, whatever the plan is, just remember a few things for your big night out:

  • You might need a designated driver, depending on where you are
  • Not everyone is looking to get the same level of drunk so make sure you know what’s what
  • You might want to set a spending limit – that bill adds up fast

For your convenience, here’s a link with some recommendations to Mardi Gras specialty bars. And hey! It even includes a bunch of extra useful info for celebrating the big one.

The Countdown


The Ultimate Way to Celebrate Mardi Gras

Now, the only thing left to do is countdown the days until Mardi Gras. With this quick guide, you’ll find a dozen different ways to party up, and celebrate Mardi Gras the best possible way. Just try to stay conscious so you don’t forget the crazy night!

What Is A Second Line Parade?

Often seeming to appear out of nowhere and full of vibrant energy, second line parades have been likened to a raucous, moving block party. With roots that span centuries, you’ll find these festive marches that had their birth in New Orleans to be wonderfully spirited processions that are quite the sight to behold (and even more amazing to join).

 

What exactly makes up a second line parade? Who marches in one? How did they begin and where can you find them today? You’ll find the answers to these questions and other interesting facts when you keep reading below.

What exactly is a second line parade?

 

Though different aspects of the second line parade may vary slightly or be given unique touches by the creative characters who form it, you’ll always find certain tried and true components in a second line parade.

 

To begin with, a second line parade would be nothing without a brass band to take the musical lead. You’ll find trumpets or tubas acting as heralds to announce the approach of the procession. Two different kinds of drummers establish the rhythm. The first is usually drumming out a typical marching brass band beat and the other, the snare drummer, adds a more creative element, often improvising patterns and beats on the fly and according to their own unique style.

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ZURICH – AUGUST 1: Swiss National Day parade on August 1, 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland. Parade opening with Zurich city orchestra

 

The music played by the band is in itself a beautiful fusion of traditions and culture. Amidst the inherently jazzy sound, you can hear glimpses of sound that mix standard marching music, African American gospel, and Caribbean rhythms, along with spiritual and secular black slave dances.


The revelers who make up the second line add their own flavor to the parade. They add beats by clapping their hands, bottles, sticks, or anything else they can make into an improvised instrument. This mix of beats and personal stylings lend a one-of-a-kind sound to each parade, making them all distinctive in their own right.

 

 The term “second line” originally referred to those that joined in behind the band, but it has since evolved to really encapsulate the whole event. Though traditionally second line parades honor a specific person, as time passed, the fun could no longer be contained to only specific events, like weddings, corporate events, festivals, and holidays. Many will find that nowadays, a second line parade is not for a particular purpose or tied to an event, but often they are held just for the sheer joy of it.

 

Who makes up a second line parade?

 

If there is a second line to the parade, it makes sense that there has to be a first line, doesn’t it? Traditionally, the parade was hosted by a neighborhood organization or social club and usually comprised of multiple generations of family members, friends, and neighbors. These hosts would be in the first line along with the band and headed up by the honoree(s) (such as a bride and groom).

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The second line is comprised of pretty much anyone else sporting enough to join the festivities. Second lines are very inclusive and welcome any and all who can’t resist joining in and can keep up with the intense energy.  These ones march, dance, and strut in step with the music but behind the honorees, band, and hosts in the first line. Second liners are far from being an unimportant element to the parade as their enthusiastic movements add to the liveliness and fun of the event.

History of the second line parade


Though they are more direct descendants of New Orleans famous jazz funerals (minus the casket and mourners), second line parades have a much longer heritage, incorporating traditions that go back several centuries. In fact, a number of scholars have traced elements of second line parades back to the traditions of West African tribes and Caribbean festival culture. More than just having a good time, these parades are part of a long-standing heritage that has been carried on through the music and dancing of second lines.

 

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Barranquilla , Colombia – February 25, 2017 : people participating at the parade of the carnival festival of Barranquilla Atlantico Colombia

 

In the area where second line parades began, slaves were given more personal freedoms than in other areas. In fact, they often had the weekends off in order to leave the plantation and gather with others. In New Orleans, these gatherings usually took place at Congo Square.

More than just hanging out and socializing, slaves often brought instruments such as drums, banjos, violins, and other instruments. They would play traditional African music while others would perform cultural dances, often with a spiritual undertone.


From this, they were able to build a kind of community that would help preserve their native heritage. In time, support groups were formed (referred to as societies or clubs). One element that all these societies had in common was performing processionals that became the framework of second line parades.

 

Second line parades emerged close to the same time that brass bands made it to the states—generally somewhere in the earlier to mid-19th century. Brass bands would create a procession (often for a funeral) as they played music through the streets. The African American societies began to adapt their traditional processionals to blend in the music of the European brass bands that had become so popular during the time.

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Young African American males began following these processions, adding in their own elements or dramatically mimicking the first line. Danny Barker, an early 20th-century jazz musician, said that these boys were so ‘delighted by the music that they would gather to dance and strut in tempo and emulate the motions of the musicians and Grand Marshal’. In this way, the second line parade became a way for young African Americans to socialize and express their culture.

Musician and jazz historian Dr. Michael White said of the earlier second line parades that “the social and spiritual dimensions of the jazz culture became especially evident in processions – parades by benevolent societies (also called ‘social and pleasure clubs’), church parades, and jazz funerals – where large segments of the community would gather in an almost religious- like ‘celebration’ to commemorate special events and occasions (or just to gather in revelry ‘for no reason at all’).”

 

As joyous second liners added a more celebratory feel to the processions, they gradually began to move away from a more formal style into one that took on a feel of jubilant fun.

Second Line Parades and Wedding Traditions

 

Weddings are festive and celebratory, and brides and grooms often choose to express their joy in the form of second line parades held after ceremonies, during receptions, or at the end of the night to help bring a fantastic party to a spectacular close.

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The bride and groom are honorees in this case, so they lead the first line along with the brass band. Traditionally they may hold a decorative parasol or umbrella, easily followed as they front the march. Second liners join by forming a line behind the couple, dancing and strutting to the music while waving handkerchiefs or napkins.


Some couples go the extra mile by making personalized handkerchiefs as party favors, used by guests to wave during the procession. Some personalize highly-decorative parasols and canes for the wedding party to use in the march, and others hand out beads and other like favors to help foster the revelry.

 

For added flair, a newly married couple might hire Mardi Gras Indians to march in their parade. These wear colorful, elaborate costumes and headdresses, turning the second line parade into a living work of art and culture. It also helps in creating some stunning wedding day photos for the bride and groom.

 

Then there are couples who decide to take their celebration to the streets. It is not uncommon to find a second line wedding parade dancing their way through the streets of New Orleans. Police on motorcycles clear a path on the parade route, blaring their sirens in announcement of the honorees. Tourists and natives—pretty much anyone along the route—are welcome to join in the celebratory march which usually lasts from 5-8 blocks (about 20-30 minutes).


Although the second line wedding parade is seen as a New Orleans tradition, the fun has spread out beyond the boundaries of the city so that second line parades can be enjoyed during wedding festivities in just about any part of the country.

 

Second Line Parades and Funeral

While we’ve discussed how the second line parade is such a joyful event, it might seem odd to incorporate such a festive event into a funeral. However, the concept of a funeral procession is not new by any means. In fact, it has been a long-standing aspect of burial traditions in many cultures, including the West African cultures that so heavily influenced the characteristics of the second line parades (though it mixes in European and Anglo-American burial traditions as well).

Many view it as a ‘celebration of life at the moment of death’. Traditionally, funeral processions were held for prominent black male members of a community, often times a musician (who was appropriately “buried with music”). Following the adage “solemn music on the way to the grave and happy music on return”, the parade would make its way to the grave with the more typical sounds that would be found in a funeral—those of mourning and grieving.

 

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However, after the body was laid to rest at the grave (or symbolically “cut loose”), the band would begin to play up-tempo music as a celebration of life. As the musical procession left the cemetery, second-liners would join behind and begin to dance to the more festive music, turning the funeral into a street celebration.

The spread and musical evolution of second line parades

With its brass band sounds being so closely tied to jazz and other musical genres that evolved from it (like funk and rock and roll), it is no surprise that there would be a widespread influence. Jazz legend Louie Armstrong and the “Godfather of Soul” James Brown are among the many who have spread the music inherent in second line parades to people around the world. In fact, it’s a fundamental aspect of many international jazz styles today, not to mention the influence it has had on other musical genres.

 

The 20th century saw a great evolution in its musical landscape, and the second line has adapted accordingly. Its music has seamlessly absorbed the musical genres of the day—be it swing, jump blues, rhythm & blues, or rock and roll—and made it its own. Second line musicians have added their creative twists by mixing genres and boldly experimenting with new styles created from the traditional ones.

 

Brass Animals Brass Band What Is A Second Line Parade 10
Musicians select their instruments in the air

 

In recent years, second lines still have a hold on hearts and minds and have been used to express triumph. One example of this was after the catastrophic devastation left by Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans rallied in the way they knew best. A mock jazz funeral was organized, complete with a second line, to symbolize the “death” of the hurricane. It was also a call to all who left the city to return to the rich heritage of their home.

Even though second line parades are closely linked to New Orleans and its rather unique traditions, the fun and festive atmosphere that it fosters have universal appeal. People everywhere want to experience the joy and celebration, and second line parades give the freedom to experience it all.

Top 5 Cities to Visit During Mardi Gras (Besides New Orleans)

Mardi Gras is a magnificent celebration of Carnival that most famously takes place in New Orleans each year. While no one can beat the New Orleans festival, it is not the only city that knows how to throw a Fat Tuesday celebration in a spectacular fashion. Here are five other cities that you should be sure to visit for an incredible Mardi Gras experience.

Mobile, Alabama

While New Orleans is known as the ultimate Mardi Gras destination, Mobile is widely recognized as the birthplace of the festival. The city of Mobile puts on authentic parades over the course of two weeks surrounding Fat Tuesday, which allows you plenty of opportunities to observe the tradition. Members of different societies ride on the floats and throw small gifts that are enjoyed by kids and adults alike.

St. Louis, Missouri

According to Budget, “Winters are chilly in St. Louis, but early spring brings the festivities of the largest Mardi Gras outside of New Orleans.” St. Louis knows how to party; with over a month of activities, the celebration is nonstop for weeks. A pet parade, Weiner dog derby, and a Family Winter Carnival are just some of the dozens of activities and events that make St. Louis a city you must visit for Mardi Gras.

San Diego, California

Despite the fact that the city lacks French heritage, San Diego celebrates Mardi Gras as though they do. Unlike some of the other cities on the list that host events over several weeks, San Diego plans all parades and events for Fat Tuesday only. The Gaslight District is the place to be in order to see fire eaters, stilt walkers, and of course traditional parades.

Galveston Island, Texas

This city has the largest Mardi Gras celebration in the state of Texas. Galveston Island hosts many events for the whole family to enjoy. According to Having Fun in the Texas Sun, “It’s really a very family-friendly event, with TONS of fun during the almost non-stop parades and celebrations the two weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday!” In addition to performances by major musical acts, there are many events, including a special show involving dancers with umbrellas.

Biloxi, Mississippi

Biloxi is the center of an enormous Fat Tuesday celebration along the Mississippi coast. Overall, the city hosts 24 parades and parties, offering something for everyone. Indulge in a slice of King Cake and visit the Mardi Gras Museum to round out your visit.

While it is impossible to beat a New Orleans Mardi Gras celebration, many cities offer very exciting and family friendly Fat Tuesday events. Visit any of these cities for a unique and authentic Mardi Gras experience.

If you are planning on having your own Mardi Gras celebration, wherever you are at, check to see if our band plays in your town. We’re sure to set the right mood for any Fat Tuesday celebration.