Mardi Gras Festival in Gulf Shores
Mention “Mardi Gras” and it will almost automatically conjure up the craziness down in New Orleans’s French Quarter. However, if you happen to be passing through Mobile, Alabama, any time between February 14 through March 4 (or within that general time period any year), you will discover that not only is Mardi Gras celebrated with all of the festivities and fun associated with New Orleans’s big party, but locals will be quick to inform you that Mobile is where it all began.
Mardi Gras actually started in Mobile in 1703 when it was a colony of French soldiers. After having survived a particularly nasty bout with yellow fever, they decided to celebrate, but since party favors were few and far between in the New World, the men opted to paint their faces red and just act crazy for a few hours. They must have had fun because it became an annual event.
Mardi Gras was transformed into a parade event in 1840 by a group known as the Cowbellion de Rakin Society, the first of many of Mobile’s so-called mystic organizations who journeyed to New Orleans in 1857 to help a group there set up a Mardi Gras celebration. Don’t let the word “mystic” bother you. No black magic or wide-eyed cultists here. These are civic groups just like the Jaycees or Rotary, only their main purpose is to Laissez les bon temps roullex– Let the good times roll. Let some of their names speak for themselves: The Knights of Revelry, The Maids of Mirth, The Polka Dots, The Krewe of Merry Mates and The Comic Cowboys. Oogum-boogum, indeed!
After the Civil War, Mobile was occupied by Federal troops, and it was not a fun place. Hostilities had long since put Mardi Gras on hold. However, in 1866, a man by the name of Joe Cain felt it was time once again to bring back the merriment of Mardi Gras and decided to do his part to put life back into the town. Cain decked himself in full Chickasaw Indian regalia, proclaimed himself Chief Slacabamorinico, climbed aboard a coal wagon with six spirited (figuratively and literally) friends calling themselves “The Tea Drinkers,” and road his one-mule, one-float parade through the town. Mobile during the Festival of Lent has never been the same since. This late winter party has just become bigger and crazier.
Now, for thirteen days, the city is a bacchanalia-on-the-bayou complete with parties, balls, coronations of kings and queens, parades and just plain silliness. Where else will you find hulking ruralites in jeans, checked shirts and Peter built hats fussing with each other over which beads look the best with their outfits? Throw Me Something Mister! Beaded necklaces are the symbol of Mardi Gras. Everyone wears them, and everyone tries to get even more from the partiers on parade floats who literally toss out tons of the trinkets to onlookers as they wind their way through the downtown streets. Beyond the beads, float riders also let fly candy, toys, stuffed animals, souvenir cups, and as an appropriate salute to southern cuisine, moon pies.
Mobile is not the only city in Alabama having all the fun! Gulf Shores and Orange Beach celebrate the craziness of Mardi Gras too! You can catch one of the few parades we have every year right on the beach road itself. Every year locals, snowbirds, and children line the streets of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach trying to catch the many moon pies, unique Mardi Gras beads, souvenir drinking cups, candy, stuffed animals, and so much more. If you have never been to Mardi Gras, it truly is an occasion you should attend at least once in your lifetime. However, we suggest you come ready to rumble, snatch, and catch. It’s not likely you will walk away empty handed, because at least one pretty necklace will probably land right on your head!