When people think of Mardi Gras in the United States, I would bet that the vast majority of folks think of the absolutely wild festivities in New Orleans, Louisiana, rather than Shreveport. Yet making your 2008 Mardi Gras holiday in Shreveport, Louisiana, which is in the northwest part of the state, does have its advantages. This is especially the case if you are looking for a less crowded, in your face Mardi Gras experience, with plenty of Shreveport Police presence to prevent full scale acts of raunchiness that take place in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Shreveport is the only city in Louisiana that designates an alcohol-free zone on the parade route. For budget travelers, they will get better rates on their hotels and other expenses compared to New Orleans. It is reported that some 400,000 people enjoy the Mardi Gras festivities here each year.
Besides Mardi Gras, the Shreveport area offers up some very worthy attractions and fine dining, with these latter two aspects discussed in more detail in my second article on this area, which includes Bossier City (pronounced Bo-Zhure). This city is across the Red River, and is generally deemed part of the “Shreveport area”. As a matter of fact, only New Orleans gets more tourist interest in the state than this dual city entity.
Introducing The Shreveport, Louisiana, Area and Mardi Gras
Shreveport was founded at the meeting point of the Red River and the Texas Trail in 1836 by The Shreve Town Company, headed by Captain Henry Miller Shreve, of whom the town’s name originates. Shortly after, the Cane’s Landing Trading Post sprang up nearby across the river, and eventually was named Bossier City in 1907. After the surrender of General Lee in April 1865 to U.S. Grant in the Civil War, Shreveport, Louisiana, got to be the Confederate capital while the Civil War still raged on westward.
Our nation’s defense is also beholden to Shreveport, as more than 80 per cent of B-52 bombers are based here. The National Rose Garden, the largest rose garden in the world, is located in this Louisiana city, too. The area has also been capturing the interest of movie makers, with several films for both big screen and television already having wrapped up shooting in the last year, including The Guardian and Mr. Brooks, both starring Kevin Costner, and Premonition with Sandra Bullock. Five major hotel riverside casinos are in this city entity locale, too, for those who are into gambling.
The Mardi Gras festivities begin 12 days after Christmas, or January 6, when many festive balls take place as well as some minor parades leading up to the last couple of weekends before Fat Tuesday, when things really get hopping. This year, Fat Tuesday falls on February 20, a day before the Christian faith’s Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent, or a time to be more restrained. Mardi Gras was brought to France’s Louisiana Province during the late 1600’s by Catholics. North America’s first Mardi Gras took place some 60 miles downriver from New Orleans. Even though Shreveport, Louisiana, held Mardi Gras parades as early as 1867, the festivities have only been in revival since 1989, after 50-plus years of basic idleness.
The official colors of Mardi Gras are purple, gold, and green, which stand for justice, power, and faith. These designations came about by accident. In 1872, New Orleans’ carnival organization, The Krewe of Rex, needed a costume, so they borrowed one from a local theatre company, who happened to give them one from Shakespeare’s Henry III bearing the above colors, and those colors obviously caught on for Mardi Gras.
In Shreveport, I got to be a part of two major Mardi Gras parades the weekend before Fat Tuesday in Louisiana, sponsored by two area Krewes, which are carnival organizations that sponsor Mardi Gras parades. Krewes are often actively involved in community improvement when they aren’t creating merriment during Mardi Gras season. Krewes have interesting designations like The Krewe of Centaur (Shreveport’s largest Krewe) and the Krewe of Apollo. Krewe members can spend between $500-$1500 dollars to be on the float to throw out the beaded necklaces, stuffed toys, cups, and Frisbees to screaming parade goers.
No Mardi Gras is complete Without King Cakes
It’s a Mardi Gras tradition to hold tailgating and tent parties before the parade begins, when parade goers will bring all sorts of food and drink. One essential food is the King Cake. In Shreveport, Louisiana, Julie Anne’s Bakery prepares some 10,000 cakes during Mardi Gras season, shipping out roughly 35 per cent of them all over the world.
King Cakes honor the Three Kings, who came to visit the Baby Jesus, and are first served up 12 days after Christmas. As a matter of fact, each King Cake contains a little baby inside of it, and the person whose piece contains the baby is supposed to have good luck and buy next year’s King Cake. Julie Anne’s Bakery King Cakes are absolutely delicious! Their bakers hand-make them using a sweet dough and butter cream icing. The Colors of Mardi Gras top the cakes via the use of colored sugars. Small King Cakes can range from $16 (8-10 servings) to $44 (for 30-35 servings) as per 2007 prices.
On Saturday afternoon, I was a spectator of the Krewe of Gemini Parade which took place in on the Shreveport side of the Red River. Several Krewe floats were featured and had a wide range of decorations, while blasting out primarily ’70’s rock and disco music. The local police and fire departments got into the action of throwing beaded necklaces. Even though anyone who stands on the parade route is bound to get lots of necklaces and other goodies, it’s incredible how badly some people really want them, as if it’s a major competition. The Shreveport, Louisiana, Police had keep some Mardi Gras goers at bay who were trying to get to the floats on the street, but the vast majority of folks, albeit some a bit hyper, were basically very well behaved. I got my share of beads and cups by not standing in one place. Instead, I ran for about 30 yards one way and then back behind the throng of people, nabbing the longer throws. I didn’t want to put myself in the position to be so greedy for beads that I would be taking them away from little kids, who were lined on the curb’s edge.
For Sunday afternoon, I got to be on the other side of the parade experience in Shreveport, Louisiana. The middle class and very historic neighborhood of Highland has a Krewe who sponsors a parade that is frequented by the residents, who line several miles of streets to get the “throws” (the necklaces, toys, etc). The Krewe of SPAM appeared at this parade. This Krewe not only threw beaded necklaces but tossed out packaged ballpark style hot dogs and bananas to parade watchers! Obviously, cans of SPAM would’ve been too hazardous to throw to the crowds. People do get hit sometimes by the thrown objects!
I prepared for throwing the beads to the Shreveport, Louisiana, Mardi Gras celebrating locals by taking them out of the box and then putting them on my knees and arms, being ever so mindful (but not always successful) of the tangling. Our float got onto the parade route, and I began throwing the necklaces, just like Krewe members do. A lot of my throws were caught, but many of the necklaces I threw hit the ground, but were mostly picked up. At first, it was a little nerve racking, for early on this scenario happened, as our float had to pause with the other floats:
“Hey Mister, throw me some beads!” (This plea is even shouted to women Mardi Gras throwers)
“Hey, I want this fancy one with the medallion. Let me have this one!”
As a few people came closer to me, they kept on begging for the beaded necklaces, acting as if they were getting ready to grab them from me. I actually thought I was going to be attacked by this small but aggressive group in Shreveport, Louisiana, over beaded necklaces. Strands of beads were engulfing my arms and legs, making me virtually defenseless in my sitting down position.
“Please move out of the way, back to the curb”, said the float walker, coming next to where I was seated in the nick of time! She politely but firmly directed them back toward the curb to keep me from being overwhelmed.
I was totally safe once again in Shreveport. I could throw the beaded necklaces from the float at my own pace and to whomever I wished. Of course, no matter which major Mardi Gras you go to, there will always be those people who’ll be a bit greedy, even in this Louisiana city.
As for Fat Tuesday itself in this area of Northwestern Louisiana, the only major festivity is when royalty from the Krewes of Centaur and Gemini hold a closing ceremony at the Texas Street Bridge, which links the cities of Shreveport and Bossier City.
I’ll never forget my first Mardi Gras experience. New Orleans seems too crowded and wild for my taste from what I’ve heard from other people and have seen on “COPS: Mardi Gras” episodes. The city of Shreveport, Louisiana, doesn’t have to act like too wild and crazy in order to put on an incredible Mardi Gras celebration!
If you happen to be in the area when Mardi Gras isn’t occurring, go to the Ark-La-Tex Mardi Gras Museum. It’s a wonderful place to learn all there is to know about Mardi Gras in Northwest Louisiana. Its exhibits contain the second largest collection of Mardi Gras artifacts in the world, including crowns, throws, as well as parade and ball costumes.
It’s never too early to plan for next year’s Mardi Gras festivities. Catch your beaded necklaces in Shreveport, Louisiana!
Contact Information for the Above Venues:
Julie Anne’s Bakery: 825 Kings Hwy., Shreveport, Louisiana 71104. 318-424-4995.
Ark-La-Tex Mardi Gras Museum: 2101 E. Texas St., Bossier City, Louisiana 71111. 318-741-3019. Admission charge.