First off, it's really not Mardi Gras, it's carnival. Mardi Gras is Fat Tuesday, while carnival is the entire season of parades and parties leading up to the big day. The more you know...
Semantics aside, if you've ever been as a tourist, it's likely you celebrated in the French Quarter, stumbling down Bourbon Street, with its strips clubs and two-for-one beers. If you've ever have the chance to celebrate with a local, you stay as far away from Bourbon Street as possible.
Carnival season is about family, friends, food and tradition. Yes, we drink and party, but we do it with our children, neighbors, heck.... even our priests.
My favorite day of the season is the first big Saturday of parades. The crowds are still small and we set up in the neutral ground of St. Charles, right on top of the streetcar tracks.
We bring out tents, tables, ladders, burners, blankets, speakers, chairs and coolers. The guys play cornhole and the stump game, while the women chat, laugh and try to wrangle more kids than we can count.
We plan our jambalaya and argue about which king cake and fried chicken to bring for weeks in advance. We have gourmet bloody mary's, homemade margaritas and blood orange mimosas. We do it up right.
If you ever have the chance to visit New Orleans, I invite you to leave the French Quarter. Come down to St. Charles and celebrate with us locals.
If you ask nicely, we may even share a plate of jambalaya with you!