The season is here! Whether a joyous fan of the feathers and sequins or packing to leave for an annual ski or Disney trip, you really can’t escape Mardi Gras in Southwest Louisiana. Many newcomers and visitors are surprised to learn that Mardi Gras is not a single day or a weekend event. It really is an entire season. Fat Tuesday (literally Mardi – Tuesday, Gras – fat, in French) is the most celebrated day of the season, but the lead-up to the big event can be every bit as exciting, filled with tradition and revelry.
How to know which Tuesday is celebrated as Mardi Gras? Ash Wednesday is always 46 days before Easter. Fat Tuesday is always the day before Ash Wednesday. Easter can fall on any Sunday between March 23 to April 25. (Stay with me here!) The exact date coincides with the first Sunday after the full moon following the spring equinox. Simple, eh? The easiest way is to grab a calendar and find Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras is always the day before.
Mardi Gras festivities kick off on Twelfth Night, January 6. This is a nod to Epiphany or the Wise Men visiting the Christ Child. The Lake Area is unique in its Mardi Gras celebrations. Most events here are open to the public, combining both urban and rural traditions. Throngs attend the Twelfth Night Extravaganza at the Civic Center to see last year’s Krewe royalty strut their stuff for the last time in public. The 2017 royal courts will be presented at the Royal Gala on Lundi Gras (the Monday before Mardi Gras) at the Civic Center. This is an opportunity for the public to see all the Mardi Gras royalty in their finery, as well as experience the diversity of Mardi Gras groups in this area.
SWLA Krewe Diversity
With over sixty unique krewes in Southwest Louisiana, there is truly something for everyone. From formal, traditional organizations to groups of friends who started their krewe during a pot luck dinner to the krewes who focus on artistry in costuming or those celebrating our outdoor sporting traditions, there are few limitations to organizing a krewe. Each organization celebrates its own set of Mardi Gras traditions, some with formal balls similar to those seen in New Orleans and Mobile (supposedly the oldest celebration in the country). Others have casual dances or cocktail parties.
Over time, some of the veteran krewes have found the need to make a few changes to attract younger members as their charter members retire from revelry. Finding a band for the ball that satisfies different age groups is key to keeping original members happy and attracting new members. This challenge is expressed by several traditional krewes who seek younger members. After 26 years as captains, Lee J and Anne Monlezun, co-founders of Krewe de la Famille, chose new (and younger) captains to lead. "We found that our social gatherings and the parade worked well for all age groups, but for the ball, music preferences in the different age groups were the hardest thing to get around,” said Anne. "Mardi Gras is for everyone and it’s supposed to be fun. We do keep our traditions in our krewe even with changes in music, because if you let them go, you never get them back.”
New Changes for the 2017 SWLA Celebration
Look for some changes and more inclusion in this year’s Lake Charles Mardi Gras celebration. Two new parades premier this year with ideas generated by the public. If you want to participate in a parade, grab your friends, dress up Mardi Gras style, and join the Second Line Stroll at 1:00 p.m. on Fat Tuesday. It’s a walking parade down Ryan Street from Mill St. to Sallier. Talk about fun! Time to rock that purple, green and gold! At 2:00 p.m., Jeeps on Parade will follow the same route. Check the website for registration info.
Angie Manning, Communications Director for the Convention and Visitors Bureau, adds that Mardi Gras in SWLA is the most family friendly celebration in the area with something for all ages. "In order to have this type of celebration, it is a matter of partnerships among many organizations. And now it has grown to include a parade in Sulphur, events in Iowa, and beyond. From now through February 28th we’ll just be two-stepping into 2017!” And while we’re two-stepping, we might as well ‘let the good times roll!’