For many people, Mardi Gras is synonymous with New Orleans. That's not surprising since the biggest and most well-known celebrations happen there and international media coverage of Carnival events seem to focus on the wild revelry in NOLA. If you are not from Louisiana, you may not even realize that all Louisianians love to celebrate Carnival season and there are some major Mardi Gras parades and parties happening all across the state. The various regions of LA like to put their own unique spin on the festivities. Most are good, clean, family-friendly fun and feature activities for children and even pets. Carnival season generally starts in late January/early February and the celebrations culminate on the day of Fat Tuesday, which falls on Feb. 12 this year. Look for plenty of parades and parties this weekend through Tuesday.
Below are just a few of the places featuring fun Mardi Gras events across Louisiana:
Shreveport (the biggest metropolitan area in north Louisiana), has a busy Carnival schedule. There are more than a dozen krewes that hold balls, and nearly as many that parade the streets. On the Shreveport riverfront, dogs and cats become royalty for a day thanks to the Krewe of Barkus and Meoux. Across the river in Bossier City, the Ark-La-Tex Mardi Gras Museum tells the story of Mardi Gras in this part of Louisiana and is definitely worth a visit if you are new to the celebration. An interesting tradition in Minden is the chicken run, when townspeople catch a chicken to prepare gumbo. In this part of Louisiana, tradition dictates dressing in “chicken colors” of reds, greens and yellows, unlike the purples, greens and golds of other cities. (See below for more on the Chicken Run).
> Shreveport Mardi Gras events
Experience “Mardi Gras au Coeur de la Louisiane” (Mardi Gras in the Heart of Louisiana). While Alexandria is a relative newcomer to Carnival parading, having only begun celebrations in the mid-1990s, they've grown quickly and now feature a full-blown parade with multiple krewes. This year's parade features a special guest: the world-famous, eight-horse Budweiser Clydesdales.
> Alexandria Mardi Gras events
In the twin cities of Monroe and West Monroe, the Krewe of Janus continues their almost 20 year tradition of parading and partying. Activities abound for children and pets, too. Don't miss this year's "Souper Catch", a soup-tasting competition where local restaurants compete for the title of "Souper Chef".
> Monroe-West Monroe Mardi Gras events
St. Tammany in the Northshore area does Mardi Gras on both land and sea. Look for the big trucks parade or the quirky Krewe of Push Mow in Abita, with humorous homemade floats based on lawn equipment. St. Tammany also adds a twist to the carnival season with two boat parades on the water, one in Slidell and one in Madisonville. And, just when you think the party's over, the Mystic Krewe of Mardi Paws lets the dogs out with its canine parade on Feb. 17.
> Northshore Mardi Gras events
Louisiana's capitol brings its own big-city spin on the festivities, with several different krewes which host their own parade and other events. Unique spectacles include the whimsical Krewe of Spanish Town (you can't miss them – just look for the pink flamingos!) While watching the parades is fun, how about joining in? The Beauregard Town Walking Parade invites everyone to join in and march in this "people-powered parade" on foot,on bicycle or other pedaled rides.
> Baton Rouge Mardi Gras events
Leave it to Cajun folks to add their own spin to the Mardi Gras revelry. Many towns in the southwest celebrate a more Cajun style rural Mardi Gras, where you're just as likely to find parades of pick up trucks and a fais do-dos as you are to find extravagant floats and fancy gala balls. Based on early medieval traditions, Cajun Mardi Gras celebrations commemorate the "Courir de Mardi Gras" (The Run of Fat Tuesday) where bands of masked and costumed horseback riders go from house to house singing and dancing for the owners in order to get different ingredients, all of which are used to make a communal gumbo at a celebration later that night. The last ingredient, and the highlight of the entire celebration, is the chicken.
You can experience the traditions of a Cajun Mardi Gras throughout Acadiana, including these locales:
Houma, Louisiana boasts the second-largest Mardi Gras celebration in the state. It’s a truly authentic Cajun Mardi Gras celebration with colorful floats, countless marching bands, masked balls, costumed revelers and plenty of King Cake for everyone!
> Houma Mardi Gras events
In Lafayette, you can view parades and catch throws, as well as witness a long-standing but little recognized tradition of masking and Mardi Gras Indians. Lafayette features a Carnival midway, native Cajun foods and an outstanding line-up of live entertainment. To make the festival a complete Mardi Gras experience, all of Lafayette’s parades roll through the festival grounds.
> Lafayette Mardi Gras events
Food is a big part of any celebration in Lake Charles and Mardi Gras is no exception. They host the "World Famous Cajun Extravaganza and Gumbo Cook-off" and "Taste de la Louisiane" where the best in traditional Cajun cuisine is offered. Don't miss the Lighted Boat Parade on the lake. Lake Charles is also home to the "Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu", where visitors can see some of the most outrageous Mardi Gras costumes, climb aboard a real parade float and learn about the heritage of the celebration.
> Lake Charles Mardi Gras events
Mardi Gras is a holiday for all of Louisiana. Beyond New Orleans, you'll find plenty of places to party, parade and "laissez les bons temps rouler".