Mardi Gras, Carnival, Fat Tuesday—no matter what you call it, there’s no holiday quite like it. From lively music and bead throwing, to parading and consuming copious amounts of food and drink, the Christian holiday has become a cultural phenomenon, especially in New Orleans, where thousands of locals and tourists revel in hedonism for days (and even weeks) on end.
Although the holiday has arguably become secular, its origins date back thousands of years to pagan spring and fertility rites; however, when Christianity arrived in Rome, religious leaders incorporated the local tradition into their faith rather than abolishing it all together. As a result, the days of debauchery became a prelude to the season of Lent—40 days of penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday—and spread, as Christianity did, throughout the world.
Each country celebrates the holiday with its own traditions, and in the United States, we tend to celebrate the New Orleans way.
What does that entail, you ask? Well, we’re here to guide you through it with tips from a local as well as hosts and programmers who are veterans of the gluttonous holiday.
Music is the fuel of Mardi Gras—from parades to impromptu street parties, you gotta have something to move to. But even if you can’t make it down to The Big Easy, Jam_ON host and program director Ari Fink has the tunes to get the party started no matter where you are.
“Dial up a playlist with some Galactic, Trombone Shorty, The Meters, Allen Toussaint, The Neville Brothers, Dr. John and Professor Longhair,” he recommends. “Don’t forget to set your playlist on repeat, so the fun continues way past your intended bedtime.”
If music is the fuel of Mardi Gras, booze is the spark that ignites the fire. Ari Fink recommends the Sazerac—a local NOLA drink (that some claim is the oldest American cocktail) made with a combination of cognac or rye, absinthe, Peychaud’s Bitters and sugar.
New Orleans local (and Creative Imaging Producer at SiriusXM/ Part-time host on Alt Nation) Nick Perniciaro likes to wash down his food with some Abita Beer, produced in the Crescent City itself.
But if you’re in the mood for something sticky and sweet, Buzz Brainard, who tends bar each afternoon on The Highway‘s Music Row Happy Hour, recommends The Hurricane—a cousin to the daiquiri made with rum, fruit juice, and syrup or grenadine. “Just go bottoms up,” he notes. “And make time to raise a glass to those bustin’ their asses overseas. But stay away from the tequila. I hear it makes your clothes fall off.”
“The absolute primary food during Mardi Gras is King Cake,” says our local expert Nick Perniciaro. This puff pastry contains one of several fillings (almond, apple, chocolate/pear, etc.) and has a plastic baby figurine hidden inside as a prize. Whoever finds the prize is named “King” for a day, which comes with its own privileges and obligations.
However, you’re gonna need to eat more than cake. According to Perniciaro, you’ll see locals grilling, boiling crawfish and scarfing down gumbo, jambalaya, red beans, rice, and Popeye’s fried chicken (locally started).
Purple, green and gold are the official colors of Mardi Gras, so make sure to dress accordingly. “If you really want to do it right, add a festive mask or costume to engage in your preferred form(s) of debauchery,” says Ari Fink.
You’ll also want to collect as many beads as possible. We’re talking enough to make your neck sore the next day. They’ll be tossed from the parade floats, and shouting “Throw me something, mister!” will usually get some flying your way. If that doesn’t work, and you happen be blessed with breasts, you can flash those puppies to earn yourself some cheap, plastic necklaces. (Throw on that mask of yours so you can #FreeTheNipple anonymously, if you’d prefer). As SiriusXM Stars host Jenny Hutt notes, “Mardi Gras is awesome because it highlights how anyone can be a stripper.”
Buzz Brainard advises that you chug a “red Gatorade” before hitting the hay. But let’s be honest, you’re in for a hell of a hangover after all those sugary drinks, so you should probably just surrender.
“Penance?” you say. “But isn’t this hangover punishment enough?” Not if you’re truly observing the holiday. As we mentioned earlier, this is all a precursor to the 40 days of Lent ahead. But even if you aren’t religious, you can still benefit from the season of abstinence.
According to Jennifer Fulwiler, host of The Jennifer Fulwiler Show on The Catholic Channel, Lent can be a powerful time of personal growth. “We have so many luxuries in our modern Western lives, it’s easy to start to feel like you couldn’t live without them,” she explains. “When you undertake a fast, even if it’s something simple like not adding cream to your coffee or not using a certain app, it leads you to the freeing realization that life can still be beautiful without these things.”