NEW ORLEANS — As the rest of America winds down from the parties, overeating and merriment of Christmas and New Year’s, New Orleans keeps the party going. Mardi Gras season officially kicks off today. It is often referred to as Epiphany, Twelfth Night or Three Kings’ Day and commemorates the day the Bible says the three wise men reached the baby Jesus. For weeks, the city is taken over by elaborate parades and people stuffing their faces with sugary king cake. The party culminates on Fat Tuesday, which this year falls on March 5.
A number of costumed parading groups often dubbed krewes kick things off today.
Probably the biggest single sign that Mardi Gras season is upon us is king cake. The ring-shaped cakes often decorated in the Mardi Gras tri-color of purple, green and gold can be found at bakeries, restaurants and homes across town. Cakes can be plain or filled with fruit and cream or laced with cinnamon. Bakers go all out.
For example, Alton Osborn, who owns Bywater Bakery with his wife Chaya Conrad, is introducing three new savory king cakes — crawfish, boudin and spinach/artichoke — to accompany their nine sweet king cakes.
Traditionally the bulk of the parades happen around the two weekends ahead of Fat Tuesday. Towns in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama also host parades and events during Mardi Gras season.
Last year, Alabama’s state tourism agency purchased 10 billboards around New Orleans and southern Mississippi to promote Carnival in Mobile. Rather than mentioning Mobile specifically, the signs told drivers how many miles they are from “America’s original Mardi Gras.” And they didn’t mean New Orleans.
New Orleans officials took the ribbing in stride with then-Mayor Mitch Landrieu saying: “There’s only one great Mardi Gras in the world.” And he didn’t mean Mobile.