Mardi Gras brings out participants dressed in costumes to parade through the streets of New Orleans.

Movie DetailerWorld Mardi Gras brings out participants dressed in costumes to parade through the streets of New Orleans.

Festivities celebrating Mardi Gras, the culmination of Carnival season in New Orleans, kicked off in full swing early Tuesday. Costumed revellers gathered on the narrow streets of the French Quarter, while families and tourists lined major thoroughfares to watch parades.

The Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club distributed its iconic hand-decorated coconuts to adults and children along St. Charles Avenue. Later in the morning, the Rex procession, led by the King of Carnival, followed a different route but ultimately merged with Zulu through the city streets.

In the French Quarter, the morning crowds were not as dense as in previous years, but bars and restaurants on Bourbon Street were still bustling with activity.

Revellers dressed in vividly colored, feathered costumes set up a speaker in front of St. Louis Cathedral at nearby Jackson Square, blaring Latin music.

Bethany and Alex Kraft, she wearing a white dress and crescent moon and he in Fred Flintstone attire, had driven from their home in Mobile, Ala. They were waiting for Zulu’s arrival on Canal Street in the city’s business district.

“It’s enjoyable to observe people and partake in the festivities,” Bethany remarked. “I was raised Catholic, so tomorrow is for repentance, but today is for celebration.”

Alex appreciates the tradition of wearing costumes, stating that they felt comfortable in the chilly morning temperatures of around 8°C.

“Last year, it was about 80 degrees [27°C] outside, and I was dressed as a shark in a tuxedo,” he recalled. “It was very hot.”

Monday night featured the Krewe of Orpheus parade, co-founded by local musician and actor Harry Connick Jr. Along with elaborate floats and marching bands, participants included Connick himself, actor Neil Patrick Harris, and Harris’s husband, David Burtka.

New Orleans hosts the largest and most renowned Carnival celebration in the country. It encompasses cherished traditions beloved by locals and greatly contributes to the city’s tourism-driven economy – as always evident in the French Quarter.

“There are no strangers here,” said visitor Renitta Haynes from Chattanooga, Tenn., as she observed costumed revellers on Bourbon Street over the weekend. “Everyone is very friendly and approachable. I love that.”

Renitta and her friend Tiffany Collins sported giant purple, green, and gold beaded necklaces as they enjoyed their drinks.

The annual pre-Lenten festivities are not limited to New Orleans. Similar celebrations take place in Louisiana and along the Gulf Coast. Mobile, Ala., which scheduled six parades for Tuesday, lays claim to the oldest Mardi Gras celebration in the country. Other extravagant Carnival celebrations in Brazil and Europe enjoy worldwide renown.

Monday’s activities in New Orleans also included an afternoon celebration called Lundi Gras or Fat Monday on the Mississippi Riverfront, featuring live music.

Part of the event involved the ceremonial meeting of the individual chosen to be this year’s King of Carnival – selected by the predominantly white Rex Organization with roots in the 19th century – and the King Zulu elected by Black laborers in the early 1900s.

The meeting, which began in 1999, symbolizes the gradual breakdown of social and racial barriers.


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