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Celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans | National Geographic

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New Orleans Mardi Gras is more than just

a celebration before the Christian

season of Lent begins in this city

preparations for the big day begin weeks

and even months in advance

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early mornings are nothing new for

Baker's but the pre-dawn workload grows

during Carnival season from January 6th

through Fat Tuesday New Orleans cake

Cafe and Bakery is a beehive of activity

where they make as many as 50 king cakes

a day here they make non traditional

goat cheese and apple stuffed cakes

there's very old-school king cakes in

New Orleans they've been at it for 50 60

100 years some of them and they have a

loyal following the old-school King cake

has a tiny baby or other trinket baked

inside and whoever gets the trinket has

obligations such as by next year's king

cake here the baby goes on the outside

the king cake is a traditional New

Orleans Mardi Gras pastry you'll find

pastries like this all over the country

and all over the world that they're only

served for a certain season during the

year in another part of town

Sally Hedrick and her son are making 150

or more ornate costumes these are for

the social organizations throwing the

lavish balls and parades some may go for

more than three thousand dollars it is

rewarding to see the women in these

costumes gleam but it's more rewarding

to see the men because a man doesn't get

to dress up in beautiful clothes he's

usually in a tuxedo Hedrick works on

costumes year-round refurbishing ones

that took a bit of a beating during last

year's Mardi Gras celebrations and

creating new works for a look back at

years past the Louisiana State Museum

lets visitors see more than a century

and a half of New Orleans Mardi Gras

traditions the oldest item in the

carnival collection is something that we

were very fortunate to acquire just a

couple of years ago it's a ball

invitation that dates to the 1850s

the carnival exhibit at the Museum on

Jackson Square only shows the tip of the

iceberg

however the museum's warehouse

periodically offers tours where visitors

can see the thousands of costumes and

other items the way that we celebrate

Mardi Gras now and for the last 150

years revolves around what we called a

cruise system there are all these clubs

that exist that are called Mardi Gras

cruise

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for the dozens of cruise spelled with AK

a lavish balls highlight Mardi Gras the

Knights of Sparta crew was founded in

1951 for the last 30 years they paraded

in the city and currently host a

masquerade ball and parade that falls on

the next to the last weekend of Carnival

season the cruise captain does not

publicly reveal his identity he says it

isn't about secrecy I wear the mask

however because it is the tradition of

Carnival to mask to hide one's identity

because when I represent my carnival

crew the Knights of Sparta I am simply

the captain one should not know my name

or Who I am belonging to or leading a

crew takes a big commitment it is very

costly to the members of the

organization paying dues buying the

trinkets the throws as we call them to

throw off the floats ball gowns for the

ladies

tickets to different functions and we do

it because of a sense of tradition

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as Fat Tuesday approaches warehouses

throughout the city come to life float

dins as they are called housed the

floats that can cost hundreds of

thousands of dollars to construct it can

take a month or more to build and

decorate the elaborate floats some of

which date back to the early 1900's it's

part of the economy here too it puts a

lot of people to work I mean you know to

make a float like this you need

carpenters you need auto student you

need welders you need tire people you

need mechanic so it's a lot involved and

a final vital ingredient for mardi gras

is the music

grammy-winning artist Irvin Mayfield

from television you see these parades go

by people throwing beads but what you

really don't see is that Mardi Gras

lives out in people's houses and lives

out on the streets it lives out in the

halls and the parties and receptions and

it's not a thing over one day so I would

say in terms of music you know it's very

hard to have my degree without the music

and he says any musician growing up in

New Orleans is shaped by Mardi Gras

you're a leg on the table that helps the

table stand up the music the food the

people for a young musician you wouldn't

start playing music because of Mardi

Gras necessarily but if you are a

musician you will be involved in Mardi

Gras a certain way

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most New Orleans natives say anyone

hoping to understand Mardi Gras needs to

come back often and stay a while not

just for one day

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