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Galveston Mardi Gras
Carnival Season begins on 06 January, which is the twelfth day after Christmas, so it is known as Twelfth Night or The Feast of Epiphany. This is the day that the Three Wise Men presented gifts to the baby Jesus.
Mardi Gras takes place at the very end of the long Carnival Season that runs from 06 January to Mardi Gras day; the day before Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras is always on a Tuesday, (Mardi Gras means "Fat Tuesday" in French) but the date changes every year according to when Easter takes place. This means Mardi Gras falls between February 03 and March 09.
Carnival is celebrated in mostly Roman Catholic communities around the world, from New Orleans to Rio de Janeiro. The term Mardi Gras arose from the custom of parading a fat ox through the streets on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, as celebrated by the Catholic Church.
In this country, Carnival probably began in Mobile, AL, and it is still celebrated on the Gulf Coast from Galveston to Pensacola. The parades, balls and other Carnival events begin to gather steam as Mardi Gras approaches.
Although Carnival is primarily a Catholic holiday and celebration, the tradition of wild self-indulgence prior to a period of fasting dates back to Pagan times. The idea is to try to partake so heavily in the pleasures of the flesh, that it is easier to abstain from them during the Lenten season.
History of Carnival in Galveston
The first historical record of a Carnival event, on The Island, was a masked ball and theatrical performance on Mardi Gras of 1867. This was a private affair for invited guests only.
Public celebrations started with Mardi Gras 1871. Two Carnival social groups, or Krewes, were formed; Knights of Momus and Knights of Myth. They still had their private masked balls and parties, but when they took their merrymaking to the streets with torch-lit night parades; everyone in town could enjoy Mardi Gras!
In the years after 1871, the parties and balls, and parades became more and more grand and elaborate! The tales of the festivities began to reach every corner of the state, and other areas along The Gulf Coast. By 1873, people began to travel to Galveston to take part in Mardi Gras. This included the Governor and state legislators who were asked to ride in the parades as honored guests!
Sometime in the 1880s, the parades became so large and elaborate, that the Krewes decided that they were too expensive, and so they scaled back their celebrations to their original format of private masked balls and parties.
An organization called the "Kotton Karnival Kids,"
revived the parades in 1910.
In 1917, one of the masked balls marked a new peak in glamor and opulence with the first appearance in Galveston of King Frivolous. However, by 1918 celebrations were scaled back due to America's entry into WWI.
From the end of the War until the late 1920s, "Kotton Karnival Kids", operating under their new name, Mystic Merry Makers, continued to sponsor Carnival parades. As the stock market crash of 1929 created financial problems for everyone, the Galveston Booster Club took over the sponsorship of the parades and other events. By 1937, the Booster Club merged with the Chamber of Commerce, who continued to support Carnival celebrations until 1941.
This country's entry into WWII, after the 1941 Carnival Season, ended public celebrations for the duration, and since there was no push to get things going again when the War ended; the public celebration of Carnival was lost for decades, in Galveston! For many years, the only festivities that continued were private in nature.
Throughout the years after WWII, when Carnival enjoyed no public celebration in Galveston, native George P. Mitchell and his wife, Cynthia, never gave up hope that somehow this festival could be revived.
Finally, when The Mitchells were ready to stage the grand opening of their fully-restored Tremont House Hotel, they decided to sponsor the first Mardi Gras events since 1941!
When the Hotel opened, on Ship's Mechanic Street, in 1985, the people of Galveston were primed and ready to party in the streets, again! The highlight of that year's Carnival was a grand parade, through The Strand, whose theme was "The Age of Mythology". It featured nine floats, that Mitchell had commissioned, from renowned New Orleans float-builder Blaine Kern. The marching bands were led by famed jazz clarinetist Pete Fountain, through downtown Galveston, to the delight of the cheering throngs! Other activities included musical performances and a masked ball.
With the revival of Carnival, groups of Galvestonians came together to form Krewes. The first one to re-form was the Knights of Momus
that made its first appearance on The Island in 1871.
Since 1985, Carnival has grown in size, adding many more Krewes!
Carnival in Galveston Today
The current incarnation of Carnival begins each year, as always, on 06 January, but the majority of the public events take place on the two weekends preceding Fat Tuesday, with the grand finale on that day! These events include parades, art exhibits, sporting events, some of the balls and parties, as well as a live-music Entertainment District. There is also a lot of extra live musical entertainment, at the local clubs, bars and restaurants, which greatly adds to the festival atmosphere! The streets are usually filled with colorful costumes and tshirts thanks to the many screen printers filling thousands of t-shirt fulfillment api orders.
There are now about 18 Krewes that sponsor these public events in conjunction with the City of Galveston. Many Krewes also hold private balls and parties throughout the entire season that are by invitation only.
Two weeks before Mardi Gras, the green, gold and purple start flying all over The Island as the festivities really begin to heat up! There are typically two major parades, and a musical stage set up in the Entertainment District on The Strand, on the first weekend. Visitors will be able to hear 23 different bands on the two weekends featuring entertainment.
On Saturday, the first parade starts at 12:00 PM, and moves from 14th Street to 59th Street along Seawall Boulevard. Later that day, at around 6:00 PM, a different Krewe sponsors another parade that follows nearly the same route. As this parade ends, there is a fireworks display over the Gulf!
Mobile, AL held the first Carnival celebration in the U.S., (in the 18th Century), but New Orleans quickly became the grand daddy of all the current venues. The parades, balls and parties in Galveston do not hold a candle to the celebrations in New Orleans or even Mobile, however, neither Mobile nor New Orleans can stage parades "ON the water". It is a magnificent sight to see the floats against the backdrop of the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico, so Galveston has one hell of a pageant, in its own way!!
One of the nice things about Carnival is that when it rolls around, warm weather will be returning soon!!
However, it is just as likely that the parades will be staged in cold weather as it is to get a day above 60 degrees. If it is a warmer year, it is even possible to see a few ladies on the beach wearing Bikinis, which is a much better indicator of weather trends than watching a groundhog! If you do see them, you know that Winter will be ending soon, and we can finally come out of hibernation!
In New Orleans, the information that they give out to tourists about Carnival is very amusing!! They advise visitors to bring along their Sun Screen, because they claim it is easy to get sun burned while spending hours outside at the parades!! It would be better if they advised everyone to bring along heavy winter clothes to prevent frostbite!!
The weather in New Orleans and in Galveston is nearly the same, most of the time, and the Carnival Season, that runs from 06 January to sometime between 03 February and 09 March, is NOT a time to be concerned with sun burn on the Northern Gulf Coast! It not unusual to be faced with daytime temperatures in the 40s; or lower!
However, when it is Carnival Season, if you are faced with a frigid day, leave your Sun Screen in the drawer, throw on a few layers of clothing, put on your wool hats and gloves, and go to the parades. You'll be sorry if you miss them!
The Saturday of the weekend right before Mardi Gras boasts the grandest parade of the season; so it often draws 200,000-300,000 people! The Krewes sponsoring this parade begin staging along the Seawall in the late morning, and party all day until the parade starts around 5:30 PM! In the late afternoon, they are joined by bus loads of marching bands that really get the neighborhood rocking as they warm up for the parade. This parade begins near 21st Street and Seawall, turns down Rosenberg Avenue, and then loops around the downtown area before ending!
Although far less grand and expensive than parades in New Orleans, those in Galveston are much more convenient to attend. Although some, who want to hold prime viewing locations, will arrive 2-3 hours before a parade begins, it is easy to find a suitable position just minutes before kickoff! In New Orleans, if you want to get a spot for one of the major parades on St. Charles Avenue, you have to hold your place for about 24 hours before the start time! Not our idea of fun!
Of course, the secondary pleasure of viewing a Carnival parade is trying to catch a lot of Throws. In recent times, they consist primarily of plastic beads, but there are always moon pies, candy, balls, and other memorabilia. The classic parade chant is "Throw to Me Mista"! But after awhile, if the float riders are not doing a good job, you may be hearing, "You throw like a girl"!
Fat Tuesday is the final day of revelry for Carnival Season. That evening, about 6:00 PM, there is a Mardi Gras parade through the downtown area. Parades through the Strand Historic District have a very special quality because they are staged within the "outdoor rooms" that the Nineteenth Century buildings create, which gives them a whole other dimension. People line the galleries of these historical structures to add their Throws to the ones coming off the floats, which doubles the number raining down on the crowds lining the streets! It is your last chance to get more before next season!
When the parade is over, it's time to go to your favorite club for some live music before they pull the plug at Midnight, when Lent begins!
One of the intended side effects of celebrating Carnival is to give The Island an economic boost after a long Fall and Winter off-season, but in recent years the amount spent on the events has exceeded the revenue generated, which has created big losses for the Park Board and the City. Even though overall attendance can exceed 500,000 people, the parades cost a lot to stage, and the Entertainment District shuts down some of the business on The Strand.
Mystic Krewe of Aquarius
Krewe of Barkus and Meoux
Krewe of Boudreaux
Krewe of Children's Parade
Krewe De Rosaire
Krewe Du Vroom
Krewe Esprit Rosaire
Krewe of Gambrinus
Krewe de Gator
Krewe of Harlequins
Le Krewe du Lac
Krewe of Munchkins
Le Krewe du Soleil
Stars on the Brazos Krewe
Krewe of Thalasar
Krewe of Venus
Krewe of Who
Apparently, other groups all over the South are forming as part of this Ya-Ya Sisterhood. The Dixie Divas of Biloxi, Mississippi use the motto, "You don't stop playing because you get old. You get old, because you stop playing".
Mardi Gras Party Beads
Galveston Mardi Gras 2011
25 & 26 February
04 & 05 March
Fat Tuesday 08 March