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Mardi Gras in New Orleans

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Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras in New Orleans

For most North Americans, Mardi Gras is synonymous with the celebrations held in New Orleans. As Carnival season approaches, residents of New Orleans decorate the city with streamers and flags in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of green, gold, and purple. The season begins for many people on January 6 when king cakes are served during the feast of Epiphany, a holiday commemorating the day three kings arrived from the east to honor the Christ child. King cakes are circular pastries usually decorated in the Mardi Gras colors. Traditionally, a king cake containing a bean or a small baby figurine was divided and served to the unmarried women attending a Mardi Gras banquet. Whoever received the slice containing the hidden object was crowned queen of the festival. Today king cakes are popular with office workers, and the person who finds the hidden treasure is obliged to buy the next day’s cake.

Carnival parades through the streets of New Orleans begin 12 days before Mardi Gras Day. Most parades, sponsored by private and highly secretive organizations known as krewes, combine imagery from classical Greek and Roman mythology with satirical references to contemporary events. During the parades, costumed krewe members ride highly decorated floats and toss strings of plastic beads and other trinkets into the crowds of spectators lining the streets. Many krewes hold elaborate, private balls following their parades. On Mardi Gras Day, many ordinary people dress in costume and wander through the city. Revelers jam the narrow streets of the city’s oldest neighborhood, known as the French Quarter. The atmosphere in the French Quarter is marked by drunken euphoria and general abandon.

By Brent Lanford, B.A., M.A., © Microsoft® Encarta®

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