Mardi Gras, Carnival, call it what you want—the debaucherous annual celebrations are actually one in the same. Carnival is generally connected to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, while Mardi Gras takes place in New Orleans, LA. Both celebrate the roughly month-long period between Epiphany and Fat Tuesday that takes place each January and February with parades, costumes, and unparalleled revelry.
Also known as the Twelfth Night or Three Kings’ Day, January 6 always marks the official start of Carnival. Though, arguably, the most important weeks of the celebration are the two leading up to Fat Tuesday. Using the Catholic calendar, this takes place exactly 46 days before Easter. That means the length of Mardi Gras shifts a bit each year. In 2023, Mardi Gras’ culminating day will take place on February 21.
Celebrating like a local feels different
Stereotypical depictions of Mardi Gras often tie it to wild traditions. You know, flashing for beads, downing sticky Hurricane cocktails, and long nights frolicking through Bourbon Street. But when we visited New Orleans to participate with a local friend, we were surprised to find the celebration had many other facets. It’s richer, more meaningful, and far more family-friendly than one might imagine. Mardi Gras is magical in its ability to reflect all angles of fun at once—if you’re willing to look.
For one, parades take place throughout the city for weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday. These are led by “krewes,” small and large organizations that spend the better part of the year planning parades, balls, and activities. Some are a decade and even a century old. For the most part, these parades are certainly not for out-of-towners. Instead, they provide opportunities for locals of all ages to celebrate with their neighbors.
“My first memories were always the incredible sense of community around Mardi Gras,” says Robért (Ro) LeBlanc, owner of The Chloe Hotel and a lifelong New Orleans resident. “We’d see the parade uptown with a group of friends, then once the parade had passed, we’d hurry to our car to catch it again downtown with extended family.”