Shreveport, Louisiana Presents a Master Class in Celebrating Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras is a fascinating tradition dating back thousands of years. In French, Mardi means Tuesday and Gras is “Fat”. Therein lies the name Fat Tuesday. The inaugural Mardi Gras celebration in the United States commenced on March 3, 1699, on land near present-day New Orleans, Louisiana. However, Mobile, Alabama is recognized as having the first organized Mardi Gras celebration in America which began in 1703. Today’s celebration, known as the Carnival season, consists of dining on rich, satiating cuisine, partying day and night, enjoying parades, and dressing in spectacular formal wear for the most elaborate balls imaginable. Depending upon the locale, Mardi Gras can take place from three days to three months and culminate on Fat Tuesday.
There are multiple celebrations taking place throughout the United States. Shreveport, Louisiana, named the #1 Place to Start a Business by FORTUNE magazine in 2015 and on-site filming location for more than 200 movies, television series, and short films, hosts several of them. Having southern charm, beautiful bayous, lovely lakes, and renowned Red River, this fascinating city is a hidden gem of class and elegance while providing entertainment and relaxation. It is a refreshingly ideal place to celebrate one of the world’s most exciting and electrifying holidays.
The Noble History of Mardi Gras in Shreveport
Mardi Gras in Shreveport commenced in the late 1800s. Unfortunately, Carnival celebrations ceased after the Great Depression. In 1989, the parading, revelry, merriment, and festivities were back again when the Krewe of Gemini was formed by civic leaders and entrepreneurs of Shreveport-Bossier. This year is the milestone commemoration of the 30th Annual Krewe of Gemini Parade. While continuing the pageantry, the parades and events are family-friendly. Several events take place during daylight hours with designated alcohol-free family zones.
The Marvelous Masquerade Balls
The French held lavish masked balls in New Orleans in the early 18th century to commemorate Carnival. The formal festivities were hosted by a “krewe” for members and its guests. The royal court, including the King and Queen, Dukes and Duchesses, and others, was presented. In Shreveport-Bossier, a masked ball is hosted by each parading krewe. The larger balls include the Krewe of Centaur Grand Ball, the Krewe of Highland Grand Ball, the Krewe of Gemini Grand Ball and the Krewe of Harambee Saada Maskara Ball. These fabulously extravagant ticketed gatherings celebrate and honor krewe royalty. They appear at the ball during a stunningly beautiful event called the “Tableau.” Members of the royal court debut their magnificent gowns and brilliantly designed, colorful costumes that they’ve spent months on end creating.
The Beautiful, Bodacious Beads
In the late 1800s, inexpensive necklaces made of glass were given to revelers as they called out “Throw me something, Mister”. Mardi Gras throws are an essential component of the celebration. Special items include cups, toys, coins known as doubloons and, of course, the famous beads are tossed out into the crowds. By far, the most popular throws are the beads in varying designs which are now made with the safer plastic. In Shreveport-Bossier, all types of beads are tossed out. The rarer, more valuable and preferred beads are the Captain’s Beads which are known as medallion beads. The float captain on the larger floats will present his or her beads to extra lucky individuals.
The Fabulous Floats and Signature Parades
Initially, Mardi Gras parades included decorated horse-drawn carriages and wagons with torches lighting the way for nighttime processions. Today, the torches, known as Flambeaux, remain. But the carriages are replaced with contemporary floats that are elaborate and splendidly designed. Incorporating decorative, funny, or satirical themes, the amazing floats feature papier-mache props, handmade designs, and so much more. The largest parades, held annually in Shreveport-Bossier, are the Krewe of Harambee Martin Luther King Jr. Day Mardi Gras Parade, the Krewe of Centaur Parade, the Krewe of Barkus and Meoux Pet Parade, the Krewe of Gemini Parade, and the Krewe of Highland Parade. Each has its own theme and flair for the dramatic. For example, The Krewe of Highland parade is often complete with the tossing of grilled hot dogs, packaged ramen noodles, candy, and mud pies. Their Mardi Gras parades, as well as many other events, are held to celebrate the season between Twelfth Night and Fat Tuesday.
The After Parties or Parade Parties
In contrast to the formal balls, more informal Mardi Gras parties are held throughout the nation during Carnival season. Shreveport-Bossier ensures that everyone can get involved with its unique get-togethers such as “float loading parties”. At the Krewe of Centaur Float-Loading Party and Krewe of Gemini Float-Loading Party, attendees of all ages collect beads, meet krewe royalty, get an advanced look at the floats, dine on delectable cuisine and enjoy great music. The hottest tickets in town are to events like the Red River Mardi Gras Bash featuring live music and Cajun and Creole cuisine. At the Marilynn’s Place Annual Mardi Gras Bash, guests feast on tantalizing jambalaya, gumbo, beignets, cocktails, meat pies and so much more while reveling in live music with kid-friendly fun like face painting.
The Captivating King Cake
The King Cake originated around the 12th Century to honor the three wise men who came bearing gifts to the Christ child. It is circular to illustrate the route taken by the kings to get to Jesus while confusing King Herod. Made with sweet brioche dough, these French-inspired pastries are sold throughout carnival season. Shreveport-Bossier has 20 – 30 bakeries selling King Cake. One such locale is Lilah’s King Cakes. Selling 20,000 cakes in a two-month period annually, the bakery’s flavorful fillings include bananas foster, Bavarian cream, death by chocolate, Four De Lis, pralines ‘n’ cream, tiramisu, maple bacon, and Zulu. There is a miniature plastic baby placed in the box of each cake. The person getting the ornament is said to have good luck and prosperity in the coming year and is encouraged to host the next King Cake party.
The Gourmet Gumbo Cook-Offs
Gumbo cook-offs are all the rage during the Mardi Gras season. This Louisiana stew or soup can be made with okra, meat or shellfish, roux, filé powder, onions, bell peppers, celery and served over rice. There are so many variations to this delightful dish. During cook-offs, some teams have traditional creations while others unveil modern-day dishes. Events include the 4th Annual Golden Gator Gumbo Cook-Off to benefit The Provenance Institute and Holy Angel as well as Battle of the Gumbo Gladiators to benefit Volunteers for Youth Justice of Northwest Louisiana.
In addition to Mardi Gras, Shreveport-Bossier hosts numerous exciting events. For more great info on hotels, inns, casinos, restaurants, festivals, musical concerts, and Restaurant Week, which will be held March 18 – 23, 2019, click on this link: https://www.shreveport-bossier.org/.
9 Must-Visit Locales to Consider on Your Visit to the Twin Cities of Shreveport-Bossier
- The Remington Suite Hotel & Spa – https://remingtonsuite.com/
- Marilynn’s Place – http://marilynns-place.com/
- The Blind Tiger – https://www.facebook.com/Blind-Tiger-Shreveport-187450951267567/
- Strawn’s Eat Shop – http://strawnseatshop.com/
- Lilah’s King Cakes – https://www.lilahsdeli.com/king-cakes/
- Wine Country Bistro – https://jasonbradyrestaurantgroup.com/winecountrybistro/
- Ki’ Mexico – https://www.facebook.com/kimexico/
- Well+Fed Louisiana – https://www.wellfedla.net/
- Frank’s Louisiana Kitchen – https://www.frankslakitchen.com/
10 Links to Learning About the History of Mardi Gras & Other Interesting Traditions