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Mardi Gras: 101

Hi parents! Jersey Girl here (well, born Jersey, moved to Tampa in high school, but in Oxford for the past 19 years.) There is something we’ve never talked about here on POM; A Spring tradition that should be on everyone’s bucket list (After tailgating in the Grove, of course) - Mardi Gras!

If you thought football and tailgating was the only big activity for your college student to participate in during a school year, let me be the first to introduce to you Spring in the South. Ole Miss baseball is off the charts, the crawfish are perfectly spiced and the sun reappears after a long, grey, wet winter. But what you might not realize, regardless of your religious affiliation, another spectacle of spring in the South is Mardi Gras.

Why am I writing an article about Mardi Gras? Well, your student might be going to the coast or New Orleans to participate in the festivities, so we’d like to fill you in on what all the hoopla is about!

So, this Jersey gal didn’t grow up really “knowing” about Mardi Gras. I’d heard of it, but didn’t really understand it. When I returned to Ole Miss after Christmas my freshman year, the buzz around campus about plans for upcoming Mardi Gras intrigued me. Before I knew it, it was February and I’d made the decision I was going to New Orleans; and I did the same the next three years!

Quick History: Mardi Gras is the “season” of the biblical epiphany and the words truly mean “Fat Tuesday” (ie: the day before Ash Wednesday – when Lent begins). So, the idea, historically, is to eat and live rich before the fasting begins. Beginning the 12th day after Jesus’ birthday, begins the “Carnival” season and again ending on Fat Tuesday. The modern way we celebrate Mardi Gras down south (with parades, carnivals, beads, parties) is widely debated to have first started in Biloxi, Miss. or Mobile, Ala. It depends on who you’re talking to, but just allow them to have their space to work that out J.

The most widely recognized Mardi Gras celebration takes place in New Orleans, but Carnivals happen throughout the Gulf Coast region. A “Carnival” is a social celebration and will always include a King, Queen and Court of each krewe in the carnival. There are parties, balls, and celebrations in the weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday, and these celebrations often include large, elaborate parades to celebrate this “krewe.” Each town can have multiple Carnivals and each carries their own name; for example - Krewe du Vieux, or Zulu, or Rex. These krewes are built from social clubs in each area.

Now that history is out of the way, here’s the skinny:

Attending Mardi Gras is something everyone should do. Hundreds of thousands of people come each day to celebrate, roam the streets and well, drink. There is nothing like it and, truly, some of my best memories of college were made at Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

  • This is the last weekend before Fat Tuesday (March 5). Which means it will be by far the largest and busiest weekend and final two days of Mardi Gras.

  • Hotel rooms are hard to find, and at a premium. Each hotel will also require guests to wear a certain bead necklace that allows them thru the doors and to the elevators. Security is SUPER beefed up!

  • There is a LOT of drunken stupor down there. The drinking age is 21, but it’s hard to truly enforce with the crowd being as large as it is. (It is rumored that the government won’t pay for roads to be repaired because the Parrish (County) of Orleans won’t adhere to drinking laws of the state. Yes, the roads are bad!)

  • Cabs are at a minimum, as well.

  • The ride to NOLA is right at 5 hours from Oxford. There is a train from Amtrak, the Spirit of New Orleans that runs from Greenwood, MS. (about hour and half southwest of Oxford) straight into downtown New Orleans. It takes about 4 hours on the train. I’ve personally taken it, and it’s quite the experience to enhance and pregame your New Orleans trip. Pro tip: There is only one track and on Sundays, freight trains take priority on the track coming South. So, you might get delayed in Jackson, MS waiting on that freight train to pass.

  • As always, reinforce vigilance to your kids about strangers, drinking and having a buddy system. The swarms of crowds can almost literally swallow people.

  • This would be a great time to ensure your tracking app is paired with your student!

Last tidbit: Eat the King Cake! Its only available during Mardi Gras season, and I think the best can be bought (and shipped) from Sucre.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

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