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Mardi Gras Parade Etiquette

Updated on January 27, 2013

1939 Order of Myths Parade

A Brief History on Parading

Mardi Gras is a festive time of the year across the Gulf South and even elsewhere in the United States. Parading as we all know and love it actually began in Mobile, Alabama with a mystic society (a secret society) called the Cowbellions de Rakin during the 1830's. The group was started during New Year's Eve by Mobile resident and Philadelphia native, Michael Kraftt. New Year's Eve visiting each others' homes was popular in Mobile during those times.

After celebrating the evening, he and some rowdy friends who had been imbibing rather a bit, grabbed some rakes, hoes, and cow bells and formed a procession down the street after midnight. Some scholars have thought that perhaps Kraftt's idea came from his time in Philadelphia and their Mummer's Parade. The Mayor of Mobile congratulated them on their fun and invited them into his home for breakfast.

At that time, Mobile was the 3rd largest port in the United States and many cotton brokers of Mobile divided their time between several cotton exporting ports like New Orleans, or even New York City. The Krewe of Comus asked for help in organizing their own group in New Orleans from some Cowbellion members who were cotton brokers. Since Cowbellions does not exist anymore, one can gather clues from Comus, which still wears white tie like all Mobile mystic societies still do, or Mobile's succeeding groups such as the non-parading Strikers or the Infant Mystics. The flambeaux, a lighted flammeable device that lit the parades, came from the Cowbellions and the Order of Myths, our oldest parading society, still uses them.

At some point soon thereafter, the event was moved from New Year's Eve to Mardi Gras. Today, in Mobile, New Year's Eve is celebrated, but not in house to house visits. One reason could be in the habit of some Mobilians to fire guns in the air that night, despite education of the stupidity of the tradition. Bullets come down to Earth, of course, and many of us plan to stay in before midnight for that reason. Mobile was founded in 1702 and there are records of a Mardi Gras celebration in 1703, as well as in the earlier settlement of Biloxi (present day Ocean Springs' Fort Maurepas) in 1699. New Orleans wasn't founded until 1718. Regardless, today wonderful throws abound from floats in cities across the Gulf Coast region, a jump from the earlier days of bags of flour thrown on unsuspecting recipients.

Proper Parade Behavior


Great Mardi Gras Books to Collect

Parade Etiquette

In Mobile, we do not allow parade ladders. However, it's fun to bring small laundry baskets with targets and the like to encourage more throws headed your way. Parades are really for the kids, so if you see a masker aiming for a child in front of you, help them out by making sure things they miss go to them. The masker wanted it to go to them, not you. If you don't, people around you are sure to get disgruntled and some may even say something. Once I threw bags to my children marked with their names only to see an older lady grab them away from them! I think there is a special place in hell for people like this. Know that stuffed animals are highly desired right now, even by otherwise sane adults. This is the only problem in Mobile I've seen about fighting over throws. People don't seem to even want Moonpies like they used to.

It's just bad etiquette to grab things from children. Let them have the stuffed animal.

To be on the safe side, place your foot over whatever item you want that fell to the ground.

If it's a crowded night, let all children get to front of barricade. A lot of things go over their heads anyway.

Don't run back and forth trying to catch things off the float. You'll bump into children and hurt them. Stay in one place.

Bring foldable sport chairs if you dislike people getting into your space.

Climb on barricades but NEVER climb OVER them. The police are SERIOUS about this!


Don't throw ANYTHING at the bands, the floats, or anyone in the parade. (See Control Your Children)

Don't bare all for the best beads! Mobile is serious about its place as THE Family Friendly Mardi Gras. We don't do that here. You WILL be arrested, and everyone around you will applaud as the police do it.

DRUNKS- Mobile is very reasonable about open containers in the entertainment district,but if you are planning to have this type of fun in an extreme way, I really suggest you stand outside a bar so you can be around your "own". Children don't need to be exposed to this.

The same goes for CURSING. Most popular area like this to stand would be Conception/Dauphin Street, outside Veet's on Royal St., or especially outside the Garage, OK Bicycle Shop bars at Washington and Dauphin St.

Again, the parades appeal greatly to children, so be on the lookout for some children to "adopt" around you for any stuffed animals you catch. Caught a cool stuffed lizard? Give it to the little boy near you who is crying to his mother that he didn't catch anything.

Parade Pet Peeves

What's Your Biggest Parade Pet Peeve?

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Tricky Situations

Someone keeps hogging into your "space". Stand with your arms on the barricade solidly. They'll get the idea. Some people take their foldable chairs and tie strings to cordon off their "area of personal space".

Still attached bunches of beads are thrown. You catch them and so does someone behind you at the same time. Two situations here:

You KNOW they were going to you because you are a way cuter girl than the guy behind you- don't make eye contact, and pull once. He'll probably let go. Sometimes, they are all tangled and you get some with the extra pull and he gets some.

The masker was throwing to them- let them have it!

Most situations can be diminished by finding a good spot to watch the parade early, around 1 hour before parade start. I like to stand in "hard to get to" or entrapped areas like Bienville Square. What this means is the parade route closes, so you can't walk across the street to the less crowded areas.

Gulf Coast Traditions

The entire Gulf Coast is alive during Mardi Gras; some would say it's our last big party before our sultry summers that smoulder with oppressive, humid heat. Every area is different concerning throws and parade etiquette. For instance, growing up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, children scrambled for wooden and metal doubloons. Doubloons, despite their expense, lie untouched mostly in Mobile. Zulu coconuts or the Muses' shoes are prized in New Orleans. Whereever you go, find out the traditions and enjoy it like a local would!


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