Two little words with an infinitely large explanation. For different people it’s different things—an event, an idea, a day, a way of life, piece of history, state holiday, or a million parades and countless memories.
1. King Cake
One of the most popular Mardi Gras traditions is the King Cake, an extra-large oval rich Danish pastry that is made during the Mardi Gras season. It usually dawns the purple, gold, and green toppings which are indicative of the Mardi Gras colors. Some are just a cake and some have filling like Strawberry, Bavarian Cream, Chocolate, Pecan Caramel, Heavenly Hash, Apple Cream Cheese, and more.
Also a plastic toy baby is inserted into the cake and the lucky person who gets the piece of cake with the baby inside (and doesn’t break a tooth or swallow it in the process!) will supposedly have good luck for the rest of the year, and in turn will supply the next King Cake.
2. Mardi Gras Beads
The tradition of throwing beaded necklaces started in the 1880s, when a float had a Santa Claus throwing glass beaded necklaces into the crowd. It was such a hit, that other krewes followed suit and it soon became a tradition, and that is what Mardi Gras is known for today.
Over the years, other Mardi Gras souvenirs have also been passed out to the crowds during the parades such as plastic cups, toys, Frisbees, figurines, doubloons, and moon pies. Despite all of these other souvenirs, bead necklaces remain the most popular trinket passed out during the celebration.
Today, Mardi Gras beads can be found in various sizes, shapes, and colors.
3. Floats Throw More Than Just Beads
A hand-decorated shoe from the Krewe of Muses is perhaps the most sought-after Mardi Gras treasure. Each unique shoe, adorned with glitter, feathers, bells, and rhinestones, can take days for a Muse to make.
Another desirable throw is the Zulu coconut, painted and handed out by the all-black krewe. Zulu used to toss them to revelers, but stopped the practice after a series of lawsuits, including one brought by a 74-year-old retired Orleans Parish teacher. In 2010, she alleged that being beaned on the head caused her to lose interest in Mardi Gras and have nightmares about flying coconuts.
Anyone can come home with beads. Only those in the know get dinner.
The Krewe of Highland throws beads, cups, and frisbees, but their signature throw is the hot dog that comes from the sub-Krewe, the Krewe of Barbecue. They grill hot dogs on their float, wrap them in foil, and throw them to the crowd.
They also have thrown spam sandwiches, ziploc bags of spaghetti and meatballs (made by a gourmet chef), tacos, marshmallow peeps, packages of chicken flavored Ramen noodles moon pies, candies, and stuffed animals.
The motivation for the throws is audience amusement. Now there is the sense of curiosity on the route: what will they think to throw this year?
5. You Never Know What They’ll Throw
The screaming crowds line the street begging for their bathroom-themed throws, including monogrammed toilet paper, sunglasses shaped like toilets, and mini-plungers.
The Krewe of Tucks began in 1969 as a group of Loyola University students. The club takes its name from Friar Tuck, an uptown pub where two college students decided to create their own Carnival krewe after unsuccessfully trying to become white flambeaux carriers.
Please Note: This is Part 2 of a 2-part article
Mardi Gras is in our soul.