Happy Mardi Gras!
I'm a rather recent "Catholic"...so, the whole idea of giving stuff up for Lent is still hard for me to grasp. Heck, I'm on a chronic diet (yeah, I cheat, but hey, who doesn't) -- so what more should I have to give up? However, the idea of Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday...Now that's a concept I can grasp! All you can eat, drink, and be merry until Ash Wednesday.
So my question was, what in the world do those beads have to do with Mardi Gras?
The bead phenomena is a relatively new one considering that while the first Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans occurred in the 1830s, the tradition of throwing beads didn't occur until sometime in the 1920s with the advent of the Rex parade.
However, many people don't know that the traditional Mardi Gras bead color scheme: purple, green, and gold holds special meaning as well. The Purple, represents justice; the Green symbolizes faith; and the Gold exemplifies power. With each passing year, the Mardi Gras bead industry grows. Parade goers shout "throw me something, Mister!" to catch the attention of those on the floats passing by. In addition to beads, parade Krewes toss other trinkets to the crowds to make their parade unique. In recent years Frisbees, plastic cups, and even doubloons all marked with the specific parade Krewes name and logo have been thrown to thousands of Mardi Gras goers. Though one of the more unique and sought-after throws, among Mardi Gras aficionados, is distributed by the Zulu Aid & Pleasure club. Hand-painted coconuts! Imagine getting crocked with an eleven pound tchotchke! Good thing the Zulus hand them out in bags.
But the beads and necklaces remain the most popular Mardi Gras souvenir. And it is not uncommon for members of parade Krewes to spend an average of eight hundred to two thousand dollars per parade ride on the beads. In recent years, the distribution of beads has been equated to rowdy behavior along the parade route. Women flash their breasts to "earn their beads." For better or worse, as flesh-baring exhibitionism has evolved into a traditional Mardi Gras pastime, “Show Your Tits!” has become as much a part of the Carnival lexicon as “Throw me something, mister!”
So, how did it all start? Innocently enough. One theory holds that when float parades were banned from the French Quarter’s narrow streets in 1973, locals with access to Mardi Gras trinkets and French Quarter balconies invented a new form of entertainment to fill the void: the flesh-for-beads show. The good thing is that contrary to a popular misnomer, you don’t have to flash to obtain good beads for free at Mardi Gras. Parades are an unbridled bounty of beads and collectible tchotchkes — if you’re willing to make the effort. Some individuals excel at getting a ton of throws from float riders without even pretending to lift their shirts. They just make a lot of noise, and know how to work it. Watch them and learn.
Oh, and if you're ever in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, beware of the lethal neon-green alcoholic concoctions known as Hand Grenades. They've been known to lubricate the transformation of even the most modest girl next door into a brazenly willful exhibitionist.
author of The Lady is a Vamp
Forget Me Not
To Catch a Casanova