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There is no question that Mardi Gras is about parades. About 60 Carnival parades fill the schedule between January 6 and Ash Wednesday, particularly during the two and a half weeks before Mardi Gras. But the four-day Carnival weekend is when parading reaches its crescendo.

Among those held during the four-day weekend are two super-parades. The first is the Endymion parade on Saturday, which bills itself as the largest non-military parade in the world. Endymion first paraded in 1967 and continues to make good its motto, "Throw 'til it hurts!" the second is the Bacchus parade on Sunday.

Taken together, these krewes have a combined membership of 2,300 men, and each year toss to bystanders more than 1.5 million cups, 2.5 million doubloons, and 200,000 gross of beads.

The crowds who attend these celebrity-studded parades tend to be denser, louder, and more aggressive than at other parades. Because these events fall on the weekend, people drive in from a 300 mile radius just for a chance to see the likes of Danny Glover or Vanessa Williams, and to have their tax attorney or former professor throw them handfuls of 12-inch pearl strands.

Carnival Day (Tuesday) is more for families. Eager parade-goers wake up before dawn and stake out a spot along a parade route. By 7:00 A.M., St. Charles Avenue is blanketed with parade-watching equipment and essentials: special ladders, folding deck chairs, ice chests, generators; crockpots filled with red beans, barbecue pits, and buckets of Popeye's fried chicken; and video cameras and hand-held TVs.

Out in Metairie, across the river, and in St. Bernard Parish, the scene is repeated for the suburban parades. By nine o'clock the streets are filled with paraders, dressed in costume and strutting their stuff. The parades begin snaking through the streets in earnest by 11:00 A.M. A lot of the local high school bands also march in parades. The good ones will march in many parades, and the money they earn goes a long way to support their schools.

Anything goes on Mardi Gras Day. Everyone dons flamboyant costumes or bizarre make-up. Locals and out-of-towners stroll the streets dressed as packs of Energizer Rabbits, tap-dancing bottles of Chanel, the Rolling Stones, Nubian royalty, Oscar Wilde, the Romantic Poets, and French Revolutionaries leading Marie Antoinette to the guillotine.

To get some more info, try visiting the Mardi Gras Museum - a 10,000 square-foot exhibition of Carnival films, memorabilia, traditions, costumes, sounds, and photographs that can be viewed year round in the Rivertown section of South Kenner. Other collections of Carnival memorabilia include those of the Louisiana State Museum, and of the Germaine Wells Mardi Gras Museum, 813 Bienville Street on the second floor of Arnaud's Restaurant.

Krewe members aren't the only participants in the parades; marching or walking clubs feature prominently as well. The Jefferson City Buzzards is considered the oldest of marching clubs, as it was begun in 1890. They get going about 6:45 A.M. on Mardi Gras morning in the vicinity of Audubon Park and leisurely stroll toward the downtown madness.

The Corner Club begins its day before 7:30 A.M. at the corner of Second and Annunciation streets. Pete Fountain's Half Fast Walking Club kicks off from Washington and Prytania streets about the same time.

Truck parades also feature prominently on Mardi Gras Day, when five of them follow the parade of Rex downtown (they follow Argus in another neighborhood). These are comprised of over 350 decorated flatbeds with nearly 15,000 costumed maskers.

The trucks are decorated by families and friends who meet on the weekends and do all the decorating and costume-making themselves. In preparation for the parades the riders must get up before dawn, drive to the starting point of the parade, and wait for up to four hours to roll.

Go back to the Mardi Gras page, or on to Dates.