This post is the first in a series I am calling “Haley’s First Mardi Gras.” The series might last a while because I am quickly realizing that I know nothing about Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
I’ve been in New Orleans since early August, and while it’s taken some adjusting, I am really starting to feel like a New Orleanian now. I’ve started doing true New Orleanian things, such as seeing Kermit Ruffins live and wearing coats in 55 degree weather. I even got my first speeding ticket from a traffic camera.
But now Mardi Gras season has begun and nothing has made me feel more like an out-of-towner. People keep talking about the parades they’re going to be in and what they’re going to wear and what they’re going to throw. I keep hearing about all the king cakes that are going to be eaten and where to buy the best one. All of this information is new to me. I don’t think I know what I’m getting into.
I was the most shocked when I brought up Mardi Gras to my hairdresser during a haircut last week.
“So are you excited for Mardi Gras?” I asked her.
“Oh yes,” she said enthusiastically. She sounded like she was going to start to tell me something else, but then she stopped herself and said, “Oh, if you’re going to get your haircut around Mardi Gras, you should give yourself some extra time because there’s going to be a lot of traffic. Just… think ahead.”
What was that? I have to think twice before scheduling a haircut? What kind of holiday is this?
We continued to talk about Mardi Gras – which locals actually call Carnival, another thing I need to figure out – and my hairdresser told me all about the balls and the never-ending king cakes and the likelihood of getting a parking ticket.
“Yeah, it’s not Mardi Gras unless your car gets towed!” she said with a laugh.
I didn’t understand what my hairdresser was telling me. I have to think before getting a haircut? I should already have tickets to a ball? MY CAR COULD GET TOWED???
These questions and more have been filling my mind for the last week because I totally underestimated how Mardi Gras in New Orleans would be. Before I moved here, I knew Mardi Gras in New Orleans was a big deal. Some of my friends had traveled to here for Mardi Gras and I had heard their stories. But I thought it was just something that happens on Bourbon Street that tourists love and locals celebrate, but it’s just like any other holiday.
I thought wrong.
Mardi Gras takes over the whole city of New Orleans. In other parts of the country, the holiday season stops after New Year’s Day, but here it seems like the usual holiday season is just the opening act for Mardi Gras season. There are king cakes and decorations to buy in every grocery store. There are Mardi Gras commercials on TV. Everyone has a favorite parade and a detailed plan of where they watch it, how they get to it and where they go when they need a restroom.
Don’t get me wrong. I am excited for all the Mardi Gras festivities. I can’t wait to go to my first Mardi Gras parade and see what I can catch. I used to love getting candy as a little kid at parades, but apparently candy is for amateurs. Here parade participants throw cups, beads and other fun trinkets.
I am pumped for Mardi Gras, but right now I am a bit overwhelmed with cluelessness. Expect to read many more posts from me while I try to navigate Mardi Gras in New Orleans. And if you see me in the next few weeks, feel free to offer your Mardi Gras advice. I will definitely need it.