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How to Celebrate Mardi Gras from Wherever You Are

When most Americans think about Mardi Gras, they think of the epic Bacchanal that takes place in New Orleans every year. Since most places in the U.S. are not New Orleans, many folks let Mardi Gras flash by without much thought, but it doesn’t have to be this way. After all, Mardi Gras is an excellent excuse to party, and it would be a shame to let a perfectly good drinking opportunity slip by.

That’s why we’ve put together this guide on how to enjoy Mardi Gras from wherever. For help, we’ve enlisted Laurie Haspel, president and owner of Haspel, the legendary men’s clothier based in the Big Easy.

A crowd on the street and costumed individuals on a balcony during Mardi Gras.

Educate Yourself

The history and traditions behind Mardi Gras are utterly fascinating and absolutely worth learning about. Plus, spouting a few fun facts is a great way to break the ice at Mardi-Gras-related events. The modern celebrations of Carnival and Mardi Gras are believed to stem from ancient Roman festivals like Lupercalia and Saturnalia. Then, just as now, revelers engaged in all sorts of merry debauchery.

Although these celebrations were originally pagan, many believe they were co-opted by Catholicism and became an excuse for otherwise tight-laced folks to go absolutely nuts before giving up their vices for Lent. Technically, Mardi Gras is at the tail end of the Carnival celebration, which begins on the day of Epiphany (January 6). You can learn more about Carnival and Mardi Gras over at the official website for the New Orleans Mardi Gras celebration.

A large red-violet Mardi Gras mask on a balcony railing.

Get Dressed Up

Mardi Gras is an excellent excuse to wear a dapper and/or crazy outfit in public. Think of Mardi Gras as a slightly more adult version of Halloween. Here’s what Laurie Haspel recommends wearing on the big day: “A purple and white seersucker suit from Haspel! Purple is one of the colors of Mardi Gras (representing justice), plus seersucker is a New Orleans staple. Accessories are up to the reveler wearing the suit — it IS Mardi Gras, after all.” The other traditional colors of Mardi Gras are gold (representing power) and green (representing faith).

Oh, by the way, Haspel invented the modern seersucker suit in 1909.

A man and a woman in Mardi Gras costumes taking a selfie in the living room.

Of course, it’s perfectly acceptable to go with a costume, too. Haspel tells an excellent Mardi Gras story involving a costume:

One year I decided to dress in full camouflage. During one of the Mardi Gras day parades, the theme of one particular float was camouflage. As soon as they spotted me sitting on top of this ladder, they BOMBARDED me with beads as their way of “thanking” me for wearing camo. I received hundreds of beads — and a few bruises along the way!

Have Some Tasty Cocktails

If you ask us for advice of any kind, we’ll probably recommend that you have a drink. That said, Mardi Gras is an especially appropriate excuse to get your drink on — and on a weeknight, no less. If you happen to be in New Orleans for the festivities, Haspel recommends as follows: “Grab a frozen daiquiri in the French Quarter on your way to watch a downtown parade, or perhaps a hurricane from Pat O’Brien’s. Everyone comes prepared with a ‘roadie’ (AKA ‘one for the road’).”

If you aren’t in New Orleans, you can always order a sweet, cold drink at your favorite bar. Or, you could throw a Mardi-Gras-themed get-together and serve your own festive drinks. Here’s a tasty spin on milk punch — a N’Orleans favorite — compliments of mixologist Cameron Dale from Cafe El Presidente in New York City.

A glass of cocktail beside a mask and gold, purple, and green streamers and beads on wooden background, with “Mardi Gras” at the bottom right corner.

Benito Juarez Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1.5 oz. rum
  • 0.5 oz. sherry
  • 2 oz. horchata
  • 0.5 oz. rum cream

Method

  1. Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker.
  2. Shake and pour over ice.
  3. Top with cinnamon.

Enjoy a Rich Meal

Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday,” so you know food has to be involved somehow. Here’s what Haspel has to say about Mardi Gras food: “Many people open their homes along the parade routes, and you’ll almost always find someone cooking a traditional jambalaya (rice, chicken, sausage).” Jambalaya is a time-honored favorite, but any food is fine as long as you eat it to excess.

For dessert, consider getting a traditional king cake for yourself and your fellow revelers. These bad boys are typically dry and doughnut-esque, with swirls of cinnamon inside and multi-colored sugar on top. A king cake usually has a bean or plastic baby figure baked into it to symbolize baby Jesus (we’re not making this up). Whoever gets the slice with the bean or baby is the big winner. What do they win? Maybe the privilege of buying the next round of drinks, or perhaps they get to bring a king cake for the next party. You decide! Most stores in New Orleans carry pre-made king cakes this time of year.

A sliced king cake on a wooden pan.

Be Respectful

Many men attend Mardi Gras celebrations expecting to see nudity. However, nowhere is it written that folks must expose themselves at Mardi Gras. It certainly wasn’t in the Bible. (Or was it? There’s a lot of crazy stuff in that book.) Anyway, here’s what the official website for the Mardi Gras celebration has to say about flashing: “This was never and is still not a tradition. Within the last 10 or so years, a few spring break-aged tourists visiting our city have started getting drunk after the parades on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter, causing them to lose their inhibitions.”

The point is, you should try your best to remain respectful during your revelry. If you happen to give beads to a young lady, don’t expect to see her bosom, and for the love of Bacchus, don’t solicit any flashings. If a lady flashes you without being prompted, well, then that’s just a Mardi Gras miracle. Tip your cap, surrender a few beads, and carry on.

A bird's eye view of a crowd attending the Mardi Gras on the street.

No matter where you are, you’re bound to find some kind of Mardi Gras celebration. If somehow there aren’t any organized Mardi Gras events in your area, create one yourself! Someday you might make it down to New Orleans and partake of the festivities, but in the meantime, you might as well bring New Orleans to you. 

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