Community Hisory Louisiana Travel

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

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Mardi Gras – March 3, 2019

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The Red and Black Brass band during the Krewe of Highland Mardi Gras parade on Creswell Avenue in Shreveport, La., Sunday, March 6, 2011.

In 2003 we moved to Shreveport Louisiana from Abilene Texas.  Abilene is a quite little town with very little to do, whereas Shreveport is a bustling city with a great appreciation for their history and traditions.  Most notably…Mardi Gras!

Growing up, I thought Mardi Gras was a single day…and it kind of is.  Mardi Gras is French for ‘Fat Tuesday’ and it’s the culmination of the carnival season which begins just after Christmas with the Feast of the Epiphany, or Three Kings Day.  But the holiday is really that entire season.  People celebrate with decadent foods and revelry through Mardi Gras.  The day after is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of six weeks of Lent…and penitence.

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Mardi Gras is celebrated in more than a dozen countries world wide, and in 14 states within the US.  It was brought to America by the Le Moyne brothers in 1699.  Pierre le Moyne d’Iberville and Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville were sent by the french king Louis XIV to protect the Louisiana territory.  They arrived March 2, and made camp 60 miles down river from New Orleans on March 3, Fat Tuesday.  Two years later the french settlers introduced Mardi Gras in Mobile Alabama.  The first Krewe or ‘Mystic Society” was established in 1711.

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Map of US states that celebrate Mardi Gras

Over 100 years later, in 1837, New Orleans would have its first Mardi Gras parade and begin the tradition that has become synonymous with the crescent city.

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Early Krewes were based on class, race, geographical location, and economic standing.  Today’s krewes are a bit more open-minded.  There are still krewes based on age and gender, but more of the modern krewes are charitable organizations open to anyone.  Membership fees are a form of fundraising and the King & Queen are generally chosen based on the number of hours of community service performed within the past year.

The Krewe of Barkus and Meoux was one of our favorite krewes and one of our favorite parades.  The public, and their pets, are invited to participate in the parades which are always family friendly.  They raise money to “develop, foster, and promote programs to benefit abused, neglected and homeless animals, as well as promote responsible pet ownership.”

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Shreveport has about a dozen active Krewes and each one hosts a parade during the Mardi Gras season.  The bigger krewes hold giant events.  Vendors and crowds start to line the parade route 12 hours before the parade actually starts and the parade begins just after sunset and can take hours to finish.  They’re always a lot of fun, like a giant street party. The krewes have well established rules ensuring the floats are all equipped with enough ‘throws’…beads, candy, stuffed animals, and toys.

Some of the krewes are smaller afternoon parades with local youth sports teams, small businesses, etc.  We always participated in these because my daughters were on a cheer squad.  Some krewes or cities establish a theme for each year.  To celebrate their 20th anniversary the Krewe of Barkus and Meoux had a steampunk theme!

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We enjoyed three full Mardi Gras seasons before we left Louisiana and attended dozens of parades.  At one point I had an old steamer trunk full of beads, but we’ve pared down and now we only collect and keep special beads.  Mardi Gras in New Orleans has a reputation for being wild, but parades throughout the South are community events and geared towards family entertainment.  If you haven’t had the pleasure of attending a Mardi Gras celebration then I highly recommend it.

 

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