New Orleans, aka The Big Easy has started its Mardi Gras countdown.
New Orleans Carnival, like most around the world, is strongly linked to Christian and Roman Catholic traditions. The season begins on Jan. 6, the 12th day after Christmas, and continues until Mardi Gras, known as Fat Tuesday, which is the final day of feasting, drinking and revelry before Ash Wednesday and the fasting associated with Lent.
New Orleans has the largest and best-known Carnival celebrations in the U.S., with street parties, fancy balls and parades from simple neighborhood-based walking clubs to elaborate high-tech extravaganzas with massive floats laden with flashing lights and giant animated figures.
Saturday’s events included the annual streetcar ride by the Phunny Phorty Phellows, a group of masked and costumed men and women aboard a New Orleans streetcar.
The current Phellows first assembled in 1981, a rebirth of a satirical Carnival krewe that took to the streets in 1878 and ceased parading in 1898, according to history provided by the group.
Locals embrace the traditions of Mardi Gras, but the event also is a much-welcome generator of commerce in a city famous for its bars, restaurants and a tourism-dependent economy. That economy took a big hit when parades and other festivities were largely shut down in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The city is optimistic Carnival tourism numbers will be even better this year, even though the season is relatively brief.
New Orleans always starts celebrating Jan. 6, but the end-date each season varies, depending on the variable dates of Easter and Lent. This year, it’s a relatively short season, culminating on Feb. 13.
Saturday’s parades in New Orleans are a prelude to other small parades set for January and the series of larger, major parades that roll over a 12-day period beginning this year on Feb. 2.
Local grocery stores, bakeries and restaurants annually do brisk business in king cake sales, some offering them up days before the arrival of Carnival, despite a venerable if loosely followed custom holding that it isn’t proper to snack on king cakes before Jan. 6.
In 2022, some parade routes were shortened due to a depleted police force and crime concerns. Routes were restored in 2023 as the city got help with crowd control from neighboring police jurisdictions, as well as the usual contingent of Louisiana State Police that comes in each year to beef up the law enforcement presence