Mardi Gras in Lake Charles- Actual Fat Tuesday!

Now, faithful readers, it is time for a culture and history lesson. I was aware of Mardi Gras in general, but I was unsure of the reasons behind some of the specific Mardi Gras traditions here in Louisiana. 
Landon and I learned about Mardi Gras at story time at the library, and I supplemented that with the interweb. Here’s what I found out:
12th Night Revelers- the first krewe to throw things!

Mardi Gras means Fat Tuesday in French. It started in Italy as Carnival and spread to France, and eventually to the French colonies. This day was celebrated as the last day to eat meat and fatty foods before Lent. It is a moving holiday because Lent covers the 40 days before Easter, and Lent involves some sort of fasting in preparation for Easter. Everyone would have a big party to get rid of the butter and meat left in their pantries. The first Mardi Gras celebration was in the early 1700s in a French colony in Mobile. The first celebration in New Orleans was in 1730s. The governor of the land in the 1740s liked elegant society balls, so Mardi Gras balls started then. Mardi Gras parades started in the 1830s, and krewes formed starting in 1856. They based the name of the krewes on mythical characters and characters from books. The Twelfth Night Revelers krewe formed in 1870, and started the traditions of throwing things at passersby during the parades. These trinkets are called “throws”.

Krewe of Mystique had great costumes!

The number of krewes has increased dramatically since the 1870s. Most are private social clubs and are hard to get into. There are tons of krewes based in New Orleans, and sixty in the Lake Charles area. The colors of Mardi Gras are purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power.

 Another tradition that was interesting to me was the Chicken Run. This began in southwest Louisiana as a way to gather enough grub to feed the whole town at the evening Mardi Gras celebration. Men rode from house to house on horses asking for contributions of food to put into gumbo. In exchange for the food, they would do a funny dance or skit. They also had to catch the chicken they were going to use! Once the food was gathered, they would prepare the gumbo and have everyone in town come together for a Mardi Gras party and meal.   
Train ride through the parking lot
Train ride
Landon’s balloon giraffe that survived 20 minutes

What I have noticed is that everyone is very generous and giving during Mardi Gras time. I’m sure that the krewes that participated in the Gumbo cook-off had to fund raise to get enough money to make the amount of gumbo needed to feed everyone at the event. Plus, they throw so much stuff off their floats, and give to charity throughout the year. I had heard about some family friendly events going on in Lake Charles on actual Mardi Gras day, and Landon and I decided to check it out.

Happy guy in the bounce house
We parked at Lock Park which was right along the parade route. Then we walked in the stroller past lots and lots of parties. People camp out along the parade route all day partying and there was some definite merry-making going on. We came to a vacant lot near the courthouse and there was a tobacco and alcohol free zone for the kids! Hooray! It was completely free and included face painting, balloon animals, a train ride, and several bounce houses. Local businesses were giving out free pizza, drinks, and other carnival food. Landon spent most of his time in the bounce houses, but I convinced him to get a balloon animal, eat a piece of pizza, and go on a train ride. Landon was so brave in the bounce houses! Most of the other kids were twice his size and rocketing all over the bounce house, and Landon just rolled with it. He stayed around the outside, and even tried to do some somersaults to copy the flips the kids were doing. I had to trick him to get him to come out of the house and go back to our parade-watching spot. 

Pretty live oak

We watched the parade from Lock Park, where we parked. It was designated as a family friendly area, so we felt totally safe hanging out around other families and kids. As we waited for the parade to reach us, I was taken by the beauty of this live oak that we were sitting under. Landon was having a hard time waiting for the parade. We played on the fire truck at the park for awhile, but after that I just had to try to keep him busy waiting in the stroller, reading books and watching the police motorcycles race up and down the street. Security was tight for the parade! Across the road from us was the Lake Charles mobile command center for the police and they even had a SWAT tank at the ready. Landon kept wanting to go see it, but I thought that wouldn’t be a good idea so close to the start of the parade.

Waiting for the final parade 

This was a jacked up car… with a royalty member on top
Our first few beads

Krewe of Contraband float

The floats in this parade were definitely more fancy and bigger than the other parades we have seen here. The floats were pulled by semi cabs and the people onboard were more dressed up and excited than the other parades. There was music blaring from all of the floats, and many had DJs on board. The atmosphere was definitely more festive and electric than the other parades. Alongside every float, Lake Charles and the surrounding areas’ police and sheriffs marched to keep the peace I guess. Since the parade route was more packed with people, we did not get as many “throws” and we had so many beads that we didn’t take any home unless someone threw them to me directly. A nice lady threw Landon a Winnie the Pooh stuffed animal which made his night. It was a little cold for him after the sun went down- it was the coldest day we have had here especially with wind. We were bundled but still freezing by the end of the parade.

One of many pirate ship floats

Crazy cool costumes!

Once it got a little darker, the floats turned on their lights and it was really cool to see the floats all lit up. This parade had the most krewes of any of the parades, but no bands or any other floats. Just krewes and a few fire trucks and police cars.

Krewe of Ruckus

Finally my French language skills came in handy as I could figure out what the krewe names meant. One was “Krewe du Lac” that means krewe of the lake. I think my favorite quirky krewe was krewe of the marsh. They all wear camo and hunting wear.

Here is a video of the festivities!


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