Choosing the proper way to celebrate Mardi Gras is as simple as deciding whether to celebrate in the traditional manner of New Orleans or one of the outlying communities. Or, there is an option for celebrating for those who are complete outside of Louisiana. Celebrating in New Orleans almost always means joining a crewe and helping to build or man a float for one of the dozens of parades in the days leading to Fat Tuesday. Most crewe members also attend and help plan fantastic balls in the weeks prior to Mardi Gras with some of the biggest, including the Crewe of Bacchus, hosting their parades on Mardi Gras itself.
In the Cajun communities outside New Orleans, Mardi Gras is celebrated in a more traditional manner with a community wide party and gumbo. In this tradition, masked riders take horseback from house to house to collect food to put in the gumbo. Once they have collected all the contributions, the riders return to the center of town and throw all the food together to make enough gumbo for everyone. Usually, this type of Mardi Gras celebration also includes a barn dance with zydeco music and more family-oriented celebrations. One of the best places to witness or participate in this type of celebration is at Acadiana Village, near Lafayette, Louisiana.
But the third option is the best for people who do not live near the Big Easy and still want to celebrate the last Tuesday before Lent. Planning a Mardi Gras party should begin at least a few weeks before with a quest for a bakery that will make a king cake. A king cake is similar to other white cakes, but is covered in glazes of gold, green and purple, the traditional colors of the holiday. A small toy baby or a bean is baked into the cake and tradition holds that the person who gets the slice of cake with the “prize” in it is responsible for the party the following year. Once a king cake is secured, the next visit should be to a local party supply store.
Beads in the traditional colors are best, but beads of any color are welcome at a Mardi Gras celebration. Plan to greet guests at the door with a handful of beads and a mask if they don’t come equipped with one of their own. The items needed from the party shop include tons of beads, hand held or elastic strap masks, and streamers and other decorations again in the traditional colors. Then, the next trip should be to the liquor store with a recipe in hand for hurricanes. Though made most famous by Pat O’Brien’s in the French Quarter of New Orleans, hurricanes are the drink of choice for Mardi Gras parties. The sweet rum-based drink is not for everyone so it is important to have other alternatives for party-goers as well.
The final two steps are food and music, as no Mardi Gras party would be complete without either. Zydeco is the music of choice, though Dixieland and Jazz can also be used. Food, well, food should be plentiful. Since the major theme of Mardi Gras is excess, there should be lots of rich, heavy foods including sweets and finger foods. Then, there should also be a main dish of either crawfish and shrimp boil or gumbo. If serving gumbo, make sure to serve a variety gumbo with sausage, shrimp, chicken and whatever other meats drowning in the stew. You should also get a lock box to keep keys in and provide either designated drivers or taxi rides home after the party.
In short, a Mardi Grad party is the definition of excess. People should leave the celebration feeling that they have had too much to eat, too much to drink and too much fun. After all, the theme of any Mardi Gras celebration is “Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez”; Let The Good Time Roll.