Photo by Suzanne C. Grim/Shutterstock
Photo by Methanon/Shutterstock
After a pandemic hiatus, float-filled parades will pass down streets in neighborhoods across New Orleans, Louisiana, once again in 2022.
Mardi Gras hasn’t been canceled, but it will look different this year.
During Mardi Gras, approximately 1.4 million visitors take to the streets of New Orleans to participate in the city’s iconic Fat Tuesday parades and festivities. The annual celebration of excess and indulgence is observed everywhere from Rio de Janeiro to Venice, but New Orleans’s unique Mardi Gras customs (more on those below) make the city’s celebration particularly renowned.
In 2021, New Orleans officially canceled all Mardi Gras parades due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, the city is moving ahead with plans for major parades in February with slight changes, despite rapidly rising cases driven by the Omicron variant.
“Without a doubt, we will have Mardi Gras 2022,” New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said at a Carnival season kickoff event on January 6.
Whether you’re daydreaming of joining the Mardi Gras festivities, either in 2022 or later, or simply want to better understand this iconic holiday, read on for an extensive explainer that includes everything you need to know about Mardi Gras, including what COVID precautions are in place in New Orleans this year.
Mardi Gras—also known as Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, or Carnival—is a debaucherous prelude to Lent, a six-week-long religious fast observed before Easter. The legacy of Mardi Gras can be traced to European Carnival celebrations during the 17th and 18th centuries.
The holiday’s connection to New Orleans dates back to 1699, when explorer Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville arrived in Louisiana and declared a plot of land “Pointe du Mardi Gras” upon realizing it was the eve of the holiday.
In 1718, the city of New Orleans was established near the area known as “Pointe du Mardi Gras,” and by the 1730s, Mardi Gras parades and masquerade balls became an annual tradition in the southern city. While Mardi Gras officially takes place on Fat Tuesday—the day before Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of Lent—in New Orleans, annual Mardi Gras festivities start weeks beforehand.
Mardi Gras day falls on March 1, 2022. However, Carnival celebrations always begin on January 6, a date referred to in the Christian calendar as the Twelfth Night because it marks the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas (and hence the holiday season). Every year, Carnival season kicks off on this date at sundown and is followed by a weeks-long schedule of lively parades and street parties.
Celebrations ramp up especially in the two weeks before Fat Tuesday. If you’re planning a trip this year, the biggest events will take place between February 23 and March 1, 2022. Unsurprisingly, this tends to be busiest time to go to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. If you prefer a slightly quieter trip—and less competition for hotel rooms—aim for earlier weekends in February.
While Mardi Gras parades are happening throughout New Orleans in 2022, the routes had to be shortened due to COVID-related staffing shortages with fewer police officers, medics, and other first responders to handle the crowds, the Associated Press reported in December 2021.
With dozens of parades scheduled, it may be hard to pick which ones to attend. Melissa Comardelle, chief concierge at the new Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans and New Orleans native, recommends the all-female Krewe of Muses parade.
“The prized catch is a decorated shoe,” Comardelle said. “I haven’t caught one yet, but I’m working on it.”
New Orleans has a high vaccination rate, with 81 percent of its adult population fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of December 30, 2021. That said, there are still plenty of precautions in place to protect both locals and visitors this Mardi Gras season.
In order to participate in Mardi Gras parades, New Orleans is requiring all members of the city’s parading organizations—known as krewes—to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or a recent negative test result.
As of now, viewers won’t need to show proof of vaccination to attend parades. However, city policy does require everyone five years of age and older to show proof of at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine or a recent negative PCR, molecular, or antigen test result within 72 hours at indoor restaurants, bars, and entertainment spaces. Note that as of February 1, 2022, the mandate will be expanded to require proof of two doses of the COVID vaccine (except for those who have received one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or show proof of a negative test result).
As for face masks, New Orleans reinstituted an indoor mask mandate that took effect at 6 a.m. on January 12, 2022. They will be required once again in all indoor spaces outside the home, including shops, restaurants, bars, and music venues, as well as at the annual Mardi Gras balls that take place in New Orleans. The mask mandate was never lifted in public transportation settings like airports, trains, buses, and ride-shares.
Hotels sell out fast during this popular time to visit New Orleans, so it’s never too early to start thinking about (or booking) your rooms for Mardi Gras. Thankfully, as of January 2022, there is still availability during Mardi Gras season at exciting new hotels like the Four Seasons Hotel New Orleans, as well as at reliable standbys like the Ace Hotel New Orleans.
Location is everything if you’re visiting New Orleans during Mardi Gras because parking is difficult, and you’ll want to walk if you’re planning to consume alcohol. To remain close to the parades Uptown, stay in the charming Garden District bordered by Magazine Street and St. Charles Avenue. This tree-lined neighborhood is filled with boutique shops, top-notch restaurants, and grand dame mansions, and the French Quarter’s festivities are just a streetcar ride away.
For a quieter—but still exciting—Mardi Gras experience, consider the Faubourg Marigny (commonly called “the Marigny”) and Bywater neighborhoods. These laid-back districts east of the French Quarter will offer a more off-the-beaten-path Mardi Gras experience, but the action of Bourbon Street is still close enough to access without having to drive.
Regardless of where you choose to rest your head during Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the chances that a colorful parade will pass through the neighborhood during your visit are strong. Some of our favorite New Orleans hotels include:
Before you go, brush up on this Mardi Gras glossary of special terms:
Krewes are the organizations responsible for planning and executing Mardi Gras parades and masquerade balls. In keeping with the allure of original Carnival traditions, several krewes do not reveal the theme of their parades until the night of the events. Equally mysterious, many krewes make sure their participants’ identities are never publicized (which is why krewe members wear elaborate masks during parades).
The Rex Organization, one of the oldest Mardi Gras krewes in New Orleans, established purple, gold, and green as the official Mardi Gras colors as far back as 1892. The three shades are said to symbolize justice, faith, and power, respectively.
In New Orleans, it’s legal to walk the streets with alcoholic drinks in plastic cups—and not just during Mardi Gras. Go cups are exactly what they sound like: “to-go” cups that allow you to take your drink with you from bar to bar (or parade to parade).
Median strips that separate streets are referred to as “neutral ground” in New Orleans. The phrase dates back to the 1800s and referenced the dividing lines between municipalities, but today, Mardi Gras goers use the term to distinguish where they’ll stand along parade routes between the “neutral ground” side and the “sidewalk” side.
Each Mardi Gras krewe creates its own unique set of trinkets to toss at parade goers, who then try to catch the “throws” to take home as souvenirs. Mardi Gras throws have been a New Orleans tradition for more than 130 years and include everything from purses to cups, toiletries, beads, and doubloons, the colorful metal medallions designed with krewe emblems that adorn the signature bead necklaces customized by each Mardi Gras krewe.
The Associated Press contributed to this article. This article originally appeared online in July 2018; it was updated in 2020, 2021, and again on January 12, 2022, to include current information.
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