We now enter into the season which is all but incomprehensible to those who do not live in New Orleans or are well versed in the rituals of the Christian calendar culminating in Mardi Gras and Lent. Today is Twelfth Night the night of Epiphany , January 6th.. For the New Orleans Carnival season, which after all the partying and parades are over is really no more than a extended preparation for Lent, it all starts after the Epiphany or Twelfth Night.
What this means on a practical level is the Carnival season officially kicks off today. The stores are full of Mardi Gras colors, jester hats, drinking glasses and all the grocery stores are offering their version of king cake for their customers.
There are numerous events as the Mardi Gras traditions play out on a variety of different levels and are enjoyed across all the various social strata across town. From the elite classes Mardi Gras ball and the huge mega balls for the masses. We attended the Rex Ball one year (this is the upper of the upper echelons of society, we were only invited to this white tie event because a kind guest’s daughter was in the Rex court that year) The balls of this sort are more interesting from an anthropological standpoint that what one normally associates with a ball. Guests are assembled into viewing seats and there is the presentation of the court and a host of rules as to what connotes proper behavior (how one claps, one does not talk, one does not get up while the court is presented) If you are not part of the court you sit in little chairs and politely applaud as the court is introduced, they make a grand sweep around the room, ,first pages than escorts than maids and they all bow to the king and queen. There is an opportunity to actually dance but you must first be asked by a member of the court to do so, mostly it is sitting around a crowded bar trying to get a bad glass of wine served in plastic cups,. Some balls have midnight dinners and the grits and grillandes are fabulous but mostly it is looking at beautiful gowns and listening to small talk.
The mega balls are a little different. They are open to all who want to buy a ticket, held in cavernous venues, have multiple bars and using one of not two live bands, often of the variety of those who were big in the last decade, now playing for those dressed up. We went to a ball last year where the B-52s played, it was weird to dance to them in a long ball gown.
Then there are the more bohemian versions of after parties from Krewes who parade and follow up their hours of throwing hand fashioned trinkets to the crowd with a lively party. The drinks are still in plastic cups but there lends to be liquor not just wine, the guests are more likely to be costumed than in ball gowns and tuxes and the bands are more raucous. That is just the balls wait to we start talking about parades!