Mardi Gras is this Tuesday. No doubt there will be usual media coverage of the annual festivities in the city of New Orleans. You know the ones I mean–throngs of celebrants jamming the famous Bourbon Street, revelers showered by beads thrown from balconies and floats, inebriated masked partiers caught doing things that would otherwise embarrass them or their mothers. These are the popular media’s imagery of the holiday. But there is another side to Mardi Gras that few outsiders may know about or experience that includes activities and parties leading up to Mardi Gras during the two weeks prior, known as Carnival.
Homes and businesses throughout the city are festooned with Mardi Gras decorations much like homes are decked during the Christmas holidays in other parts of the United States. Banners are draped, flags are posted, wreaths are hung all in colors of purple, green and gold, the official Mardi Gras colors as established in 1892. The purple represents justice, green stands for faith and gold for power. Garlands of beads, both large and small, are looped above thresholds, flung over fence posts, hung from tree branches or wrapped along balcony railings. Giant-sized masks, Fleur de Lis and Krewe coats of arms are fixed on doors and gates. Shop windows everywhere, of course, sport Mardi Gras-themed displays. Some residents enjoy putting up even more elaborate displays of lights or even mannequins dressed in costume. It’s quite a show.
While visitors can pick up beads in any French Quarter shop catering to tourists or at the outdoor French Market down on Decatur Street, New Orleanians have other sources. There’s a fabulous corner shop on Magazine Street in what is known as the Irish Channel–the Brad & Dellwen Flag Party. The little, narrow store is packed with flags of every kind but especially those bearing Mardi Gras colors, the Fleur de Lis and other New Orleans specific themes.
For beads, garlands, wreaths,tabletop decorations and about everything else, they head off to Accent Annex in the Metairie area of the city, just off the freeway. A visit to this place is in itself an event. This huge store has aisles of Mardi Gras supplies, many at a fraction of the cost that you’d pay otherwise at the tourist shops in the Quarter. The store has every sort of decoration imaginable and anything that you might need to make your Mardi Gras party a hit. I make it a point to stop at the store to load up on Mardi Gras party supplies whenever I’m in New Orleans.
Crafty New Orleanians make their own Mardi Gras decorations or wreaths. I scored a wonderful wreath one year crafted by a woman who lived in the area across Lake Pontchartrain, known as North Shore, and who had placed her homemade goodies for sale at a booth one year in the French Market. I carefully carried it home in a large plastic bag when I flew back. Now I hang it on my own door during Mardi Gras season just to remind of the decorated homes there.
As they say in New Orleans, ‘Happy Mardi Gras, y’all!”