Today was Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, in New Orleans. My family and I headed downtown around 11am with our friend, Willie, to catch Rex. We were going to our Grandstand spot on St. Charles and Poydras. We were not expecting to catch Zulu! It was an awesome surprise to see most of the Zulu floats. The parade, lucky for us, was running behind.
We dressed up as a family of pirates. Ahoy there, matey! Arrrgh!
Our friend, Willie, was dressed as a king. All Hail King Willie!
Zulu was named after the fiercest of the African tribes. What began as a spoof of the Rex parade has become a highly anticipated New Orleans tradition.
Zulu’s theme was “Celebrating 100 Years as a New Orleans Tradition.” The parade had 35 floats and has1,200 male and female riders.
All the Zulu riders wear black and white face, regardless of their race. They throw a number of goodies including medallions and spears but the most highly sought after throw in all of carnival is the Zulu coconut. Each coconut is hand-painted and decorated by the Zulu krewe members. Mardi Gras revelers go crazy over Zulu coconuts. To receive the prized treasure, you must be close to the float because coconuts are not thrown, but handed to spectators.
The Zulu parade is a fun parade and marks the first of the signature parades that roll on Mardi Gras day.
After Zulu, it was time for Rex, King of Carnival. Rex is the symbol of the carnival season in New Orleans. The organization began in 1872 and created the Mardi Gras flag with the colors – purple (justice), green (faith) and gold (power). The krewe also invented the Mardi Gras doubloon, which has become a staple carnival throw.
Rex, King of Carnival, is toasted at Gallier Hall by Mayor of New Orleans. Rex’s identity is not revealed to the public until Mardi Gras day, when it is announced in the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper. Rex then stops further up the parade route (this year at the Grandstand at the Hotel Intercontinental) to toast his Queen.
This year’s theme was “Spirits of Spring,” with images of renewal and rebirth.
The floats are rebuilt each year on wagon chassis with wooden spoke wheels. They are pulled by modern-day tractors.
The Bouef Gras or Fat Ox represents the fattened meat before the Lenten season begins. The Bouef Gras is a traditional float in the Rex parade. Smoke pours forth from his nostrils.
Celebrating the city’s rebirth, Rex honors New Orleans with 24 floats that depict renewal and beginnings, 27 floats in all.
Goddess Aphrodite’s shrine was located on Mount Eryx. One of her symbols, the Golden Honeycomb, was displayed in the temple erected in her honor. The temple’s priestesses were known as the melissae, or bees.
New Orleans has much in common with Venetian Carnavale, celebrating with masks, elaborate balls, and ending on Shrove Tuesday.
Equinox means “equal night,” one of the two days each year when days and nights are nearly equal in length. The Spring Equinox is celebrated as the end of the long, cold winter and the beginning of the warmer, fertile growing season.
Poseidon was given dominion over the sea, the birthplace of life, when his parents divided the universe among their children. Poseidon is usually found with trident in his hand, riding in a chariot pulled by sea horses (the hippocampi), with dolphins at his side.
Narcissus was a vain God. Many versions of his story exist. One says that a nymph, Echo, fell in love with him but he was so in love with his own reflection in a pool of water, that he ignored her. She pined away for him, echoing his name. Nemesis heard Echo’s prayers and then turned him into a flower doomed to stare at his own reflection forever.
The Phoenix is a magnificent bird that lives for hundreds of years. It dies in flames, to be reborn again.
This float is a recreation of one originally designed by Ceneilla Bower Alexander for the Rex Procession of 1914. As the winds of March announce the coming of Spring, the sprites and nymphs begin to awake from their Winter slumber.
The Streetcar Named Desire is one of New Orleans’ most famous streetcar lines. This permanent float honors that.
The calliope is a musical instrument that produces sound through whistles.
In Aztec mythology this water Goddess was also associated birth and life.
Freya, also known as Freyja, was a Nordic Goddess and leader of the Valkyries. She brought dead heroes to Valhalla. She flew over the earth, shaking Spring flowers from her blonde hair.
The daughter of Demeter and Zeus, Persephone was abducted by Hades and taken to the Underworld. She eats six pomegranate seeds and has to spend six months with Hades. While Persephone is gone, Demeter grieves and keeps the earth barren. When Persephone returns, the earth comes back to life.
Also known as The Foliate Head, this symbol exists in many forms and in many cultures as a symbol of Spring and rebirth.
Celebrated in Valencia, Spain since the Middle Ages, this mid-Lenten festival culminates on March 19. Neighborhood groups compete in building fanciful figures of papier-mache and wax called ninots. They are set afire as the grand celebration draws to a close.
Ma-Ku is the Chinese Goddess of Springtime. According to legend, she took land from the sea and planted it with mulberry trees. Ma-Ku is also known as the Goddess of the Rain Cloud because Spring heralds the rainy season in China.
The butterfly symbolizes transformation and rebirth in many cultures. Her wings are the very symbol of Springtime.
Zephyrus, the God of the West Wind, was the gentlest of winds. He was known as the messenger of Spring. Zephryus carried away the nymph, Chloris, making her the Goddess of Spring.
The Greeks worshiped the Goddess Aphrodite. Doves lived in her temple. They would fly away each year. Aphrodite took the form of a Red Dove and led the returning doves. Aphrodite’s return to her temple officially ushered in Spring.
Bears fall in a deep slumber during the winter, hibernating. When they awaken, Spring has made her arrival.
The Royal Barge is one of Rex’s permanent floats. This float is the last remnant of the Royal Navy, boats carried on wagons that were part of the earliest Rex Processions.
Of course, no Rex parade would be complete without the Marching 100, the St. Aug (Augustine) band. Known for their theatrical dance moves, the band jazzes up the parade route annually, to throngs of adoring fans.
The Citadel marches with precision.
Mardi Gras is a celebration like no other! If you haven’t been, please visit our fair city. The Fat Tuesday celebration is a time-honored tradition full of history and culture. Each parade is artfully created with gorgeous floats and a painstakingly-researched theme. The Mardi Gras krewes revere their traditions (many are generations old). In New Orleans, Mardi Gras is about celebrating with family and friends, as well as making mirth and merriment.
Here are Soleil and Eliana after the parade with throws around the neck and in the bag!
The King’s jesters decided that it was time to return to the Castle…
King Willie was lucky enough to meet Our Lady of the Gulf and Our Lady of the Swamp. LOL
Come to New Orleans and live our rebirth! And always, laissez les bon temps rouler! Let the good times roll!
Until next time…