While the months of January and February typically invoke memories of long, frigid nights in much of the country, the early months in New Orleans instead come with generous bites of fresh, sugary king cake, raucous laughter from a sea of gaudy costumes, and the omnipresent purple, gold, and green hues of Mardi Gras. The colorful celebration season, known as Carnival, begins well in advance of Mardi Gras Day, commencing after Twelfth Night (January 5) and stretching until Fat Tuesday (the literal translation of Mardi Gras from French) exactly 47 days before Easter. While Mardi Gras Day has plenty of extravagant parades (or krewes, to use the local term) of its own, many of the wildest happen well in advance, typically coming with loud, jazz-filled block parties, bright, beautiful floats, unique throws (signature trinkets thrown from krewe members to partygoers, many of which are highly sought after), and good times. Check out these parades the next time you find yourself in the Big Easy during Carnival season.
Krewe du Vieux
French Quarter, Saturday, Feb. 12 at 6:30 p.m.
Sporting subkrewes with names like the Krewe of Underwear and the Krewe of L.E.W.D., the naughtier, mischievous side of New Orleans is on full display in this beloved French Quarter classic that also features some of the city’s premier jazz talent. Krewe du Vieux is known for sporting satirical, tongue-in-cheek themes (“C’est Levee” was the krewe’s first theme post-Katrina) and adopting a carefree, no-rules vibe. Dress up in a flashy disguise and join the other masked revelers among the wailing sounds of brass trumpets on your way to Krewe du Vieux Doo, the famed masquerade ball at the end of the parade.
Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus
Marigny/French Quarter, Saturday, Feb. 5 at 7:00 p.m.
Chewbacchus is a celebration of nerd fandom, whether from the worlds of fantasy, science-fiction, horror, or elsewhere. As one of the green krewes of Mardi Gras, Chewbacchus eschews gasoline-fueled technologies powering the parade in favor of DIY sustainable ingenuity. Krewe members come equipped with handmade throws, and craft bizarre, dazzling floats out of objects like shopping carts, tricycles, and rickshaws. Stick around for the Chewbacchanal, a wild afterparty featuring live music and DJs after the parade ends in the offbeat Marigny neighborhood, and pay homage to the Sacred Drunken Wookiee alongside your fellow Chewbacchanaliens.
Uptown, Friday, Feb. 25 at 6:30 p.m.
A krewe noted for its secrecy and biting satire, Krewe d’Etat sheds the familiar custom of electing royalty for the parade and instead opts for The Dictator, whose identity is never revealed, and a theme that remains hidden until the day of the festivities. Krewe members, dressed up as macabre skeletons and throwing glow-in-the-dark blinking skull beads, are flanked by The Captain and his officers, all riding on horseback, as the procession travels down a path lit by flambeaux torch carriers. The krewe can thus be summed up by its Latin motto: “Vivite ut Vehatis. Vehite ut Vevatis,” which translates to “Live to Ride, Ride to Live”.
Uptown, Thursday, Feb. 24 at 6:45 p.m.
This all-female krewe embodies the spirit of the Muses, the daughters of Zeus who were the patrons of the arts and creativity in Greek myths, through intricate, themed floats containing elements of humor and satire. The organization is rooted in yearlong philanthropic efforts and includes an annual design contest. The lucky winner, in addition to having their creation turned into a unique throw cup, becomes a guest of honor in the parade. Join the lively party Uptown, and try to catch the signature throw of Muses, one of the most highly sought after in all of Mardi Gras: hand-crafted, elaborately decorated high heel shoes.
Mystic Krewe Of Barkus
French Quarter, Sunday, Feb. 20 at 2:00 p.m.
Not every krewe has massive floats that demand hours of construction and attention to detail: some are alive! Barkus is unique in that local pups from around the city double as centerpieces for the canine-friendly floats, and are often seen sporting elaborate costumes as they ride through the French Quarter in style. It is a must-stop for any self-respecting dog lover. The krewe offers registration for local dogs if you want to see your furry friend included in the festivities.
Marigny/French Quarter, Friday, Feb. 11 at 7:00 p.m.
Grab your most eccentric costume and descend on the Marigny and French Quarter neighborhoods during “L’Heure Verte” (The Green Hour) to enjoy this wild, absinthe-tinted party alongside your fellow bohemes. Defined on the krewe’s website as “A person with artistic or literary interests who disregards conventional standards of behavior,” this parade is a showcase of the eclectic creativity of New Orleans’ intrepid and artistically inclined. As you try to snatch one of the many handmade throws out of the air amongst the numerous radiant light and sound fixtures, see if you can catch a glimpse of the celebration’s de facto leader: the Supreme Green Fairy.
Marigny, Sunday, Feb. 13 at 4:30 p.m.
In response to the emergence of massive superkrewes like Endymion, the krewe of ‘tit Rex took the opposite approach to become Mardi Gras’ first and only “microkrewe.” ‘tit Rex (‘tit being a Cajun abbreviation of the French word for “small”) trades huge, elaborate floats for tiny contraptions made out of shoeboxes. Despite their diminutive size, the artistic ability in the floats is no less diminished, featuring brilliant miniature displays of sound and color to impress nearby partygoers.
John Sizemore is a travel writer, photographer, yoga teacher, and visual entertainment developer based out of Austin, Texas. Follow him on Instagram at @sizemoves. In his downtime, John likes to learn foreign languages and get immersed in other worlds, particularly those of music, film, games, and books in addition to exploring the world.