Mardi Gras season in New Orleans officially begins this Saturday with a vibrant display of costumes, brass bands, and streetcar rides along the historic St. Charles Avenue. As the locals prepare to indulge in festivities, an annual procession honoring Joan of Arc will also take place in the French Quarter.

The Significance of Carnival

Although Mardi Gras is a secular celebration, it holds deep-rooted connections to Christian and Roman Catholic traditions. The Carnival season commences on January 6, exactly 12 days after Christmas, and concludes on Fat Tuesday. This day is marked by feasting, drinking, and revelry before the fasting period of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.

New Orleans: The Epicenter of Carnival

New Orleans boasts the largest and most renowned Carnival celebrations in the United States. The city comes alive with street parties, exquisite balls, and magnificent parades. These parades range from intimate neighborhood-based walking clubs to extravagant high-tech displays featuring colossal floats adorned with dazzling lights and animated figures. While New Orleans takes the spotlight, various communities across Louisiana and the Gulf Coast also joyously indulge in Mardi Gras festivities. Notably, Mobile, Alabama, proudly claims the oldest Mardi Gras observances nationwide.

Let the Party Commence!

The excitement kicks off this Saturday with a beloved tradition - the Phunny Phorty Phellows taking a ride on a New Orleans streetcar. This group of masked and costumed individuals boards the streetcar at the Carrollton neighborhood's public transit barn and travels along St. Charles Avenue, captivating spectators along the way.

The Phunny Phorty Phellows have a storied history that dates back to 1878. After parading through the streets for two decades, they disbanded in 1898. However, in 1981, they made a triumphant return as a satirical Carnival krewe. Since then, they have become an integral part of New Orleans' Carnival traditions.

Meanwhile, the French Quarter will witness the annual parade by the Krewe de Jeanne d'Arc, which pays tribute to the celebrated French heroine. The route takes participants past a majestic golden statue of Joan of Arc. This year, a delegation from Orléans, France, is set to join the festivities, adding an international flair to the occasion.

Although the parade primarily honors Joan of Arc, it also signals the end of the Christmas season and welcomes the arrival of Carnival. According to krewe captain Antoinette Alteriis, the parade concludes with a special ceremony, embracing the spirit of both seasons.

Let the countdown to Mardi Gras begin!

A Post-COVID Jolt for Tourism

The vibrant traditions of Mardi Gras are not only beloved by locals but also play a vital role in generating commerce for a city famous for its bars, restaurants, and tourism-dependent economy. However, the COVID-19 pandemic dealt a severe blow to this economy as parades and festivities were largely shut down in 2021.

According to Mark Romig of tourism agency New Orleans & Co., there has been a remarkable rebound since then.

"It's been a very dramatic return," Romig said. "We saw a steady increase beginning in '22, and this past year, '23, was amazing. We felt very good about it."

Abbreviated Season

Despite the relatively brief season this year, Romig remains optimistic that Carnival tourism numbers will soar even higher.

While New Orleans always starts celebrating on January 6th, the season's end date varies depending on the variable dates of Easter and Lent. In 2023, the season will culminate on February 13th after a series of small parades set for January and a 12-day period of larger, major parades beginning on February 2nd.

A Sweet Sign of the Times

To herald the coming of Carnival after the Joan of Arc parade, participants will partake in a ceremony featuring the iconic king cake, shares Alteriis. These rings of pastry adorned with purple, green, and gold sugar or icing are a beloved delicacy of the season.

Local grocery stores, bakeries, and restaurants experience a surge in king cake sales each year, with some even offering them before January 6th, defying the traditional belief that snacking on king cake beforehand is improper.

Crime Concerns

In 2022, some parade routes were shortened due to a depleted police force and concerns about crime. However, in 2023, routes were restored as the city received assistance with crowd control from neighboring police jurisdictions and the usual presence of the Louisiana State Police, who come in each year to bolster law enforcement efforts.

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