Thinking of going to Mardi Gras this year? Festivities begin around the middle of February and culminate with Fat Tuesday on February 25, 2020. Mardi Gras, which is French for Fat Tuesday, begins the 40 days fasting season of Lent between Ash Wednesday and Easter.
Celebrations take place all over the globe but there’s an age-old debate in the South between New Orleans, LA and Mobile, AL as to who did it first regarding Mardi Gras festivities in the United States. If you’re native to Louisiana, then of course you insist that Mardi Gras started in New Orleans, but there’s a real OG. That’s right, Mardi Gras originated in the beautiful port city of Mobile, AL.
Mardi Gras started in 1703 by the French as they celebrated the first settlement in the city. At the time, Mobile was the capital of Louisiana, years before New Orleans was founded in 1718. NOLA is a beautiful, wonderful city and one must visit there at least once in their lifetime but when it comes to Mardi Gras, there are larger crowds, more parades and more debauchery. It can be hard to navigate but you can bypass it altogether and go to Mobile Mardi Gras instead.
- Mobile Mardi Gras is more family friendly. Sure, the whole idea of Mardi Gras is centered around excess, debauchery and libation but Mobile boasts a more family friendly crowd. While people flock to New Orleans for the party and to show their “assets” for some beads, the Azalea City focuses more on heritage, lavish balls and ceremonies. Most of the societal balls are by invitation only so get in good with a Mobilian to score a ticket. And for the kids, there’s the Mobile Carnival Museum, the Mobile Museum of Art and the Gulf Coast Exploreum.
- The Food and Bar Scene. Don’t get it twisted, New Orleans is the absolute hub for French Cajun cuisine, seafood and everything in between. There’s not really a bad place to eat in NOLA to be honest. However, Mobile keeps up its appearances with quality dining as well. From burgers to gyros to crawfish, you can’t go wrong perusing the menus on the bay. The nightlife rivals New Orleans as well with bars that seemingly never close (they really don’t) and live music until the wee hours of the morning.
- Proximity, Culture and Beauty. Nestled comfortably between New Orleans and Pensacola, FL on I-10, Mobile is centrally located on the Gulf Coast. In only an hour or two east or west, you can visit the swamp and the beach in one day! And let’s not leave out little coastal charmers like Fairhope, AL and Biloxi, MS where you can catch local Mardi Gras celebrations as well. Each little town and community on the Gulf Coast has its own rich heritage, culture and traditions as well as beautiful and unique scenery.
- Real Life Southerners. New Orleans is a way more touristy town and while you may run across your fair share of good ole southern folk, Mobile is where you’ll find the real southern hospitality. Although it is a port city and is a melting pot of cultures, real life southerners who are proud of their town are abundant in Mobile and will welcome you to their city with open arms.
- Mystic Societies, Parades & Joe Cain Day. Speaking of family friendly, Joe Cain day is unique to Mobile and falls on the Sunday before Fat Tuesday. Cain is known for the revival of Mardi Gras after the Civil War and dresses up as the fictional character, Chief Slac to lead the Joe Cain Procession. The wacky parade, known as the “people’s parade” also boasts many other characters like the Merry Widows, the Mistresses of Joe Cain, and the Bums. As for the other parades during the festivities, one of the more notable ones is the MOT (Mystics of Time) parade. One of the many mystic parading societies in Mobile, the MOTs go above and beyond every year with a new theme, involving time of course, and the unmistakable and unforgettable dragon floats that blow real smoke and fire!
There is not really a ton of adversity between New Orleans and Mobile Mardi Gras events. It just depends on what type of experience you want to have. They are very different celebrations and have their own unique quirks. Mardi Gras is meant to be a celebration, a revival of sorts and while most of the country ends their party with the New Year, Mobilans keep the revelry going with 2 more weeks of good eats, libations, beads and moon pies.