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Monday October 20th 2014

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Mardi Gras Season Is In Full Swing
By Kate Peterson

Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez—let the good times roll. Pensacola knows how to make it roll. Mardi Gras season is in full swing along the Gulf Coast. There are many parades and events to attend, with some great weather to boot.

HISTORY

Ever since Jean Baptiste Bienville, a French-Canadian explorer, landed 60 miles south of New Orleans in 1703 and declared it, “Pointe due Mardi Gras,” there have been Mardi Gras celebrations here along the Gulf Coast. However, we’ve put our own riotous spin on the age-old Catholic celebration.

When the area was founded by French and Spanish settlers, they brought with them their religious celebrations and calendars. Carnival season kicks off with the Epiphany, 12th night, January 6, twelve days after Christmas. King cakes are a customary treat during this period of the carnival celebration. King cakes are round, sweet cakes that represent the circular routes the Three Wise Men took to find Jesus. Inside the king cake there may be a plastic baby, a coin or a bean. If you get the piece of the cake with the trinket inside, you have to host the king cake party the following year.

The colors of Mardi Gras are: purple, representing justice: green, representing faith; and gold, representing power.

Carnival season ends with Fat Tuesday, which is based on the tradition of feasting on a fattened calf on the last day of carnival. The tradition of having pancakes on Fat Tuesday comes from the need to use up all the fat, eggs and dairy before fasting, as Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. This year, Fat Tuesday falls on March 8.

EVENTS, KREWES AND PARADES

Danny Zimmern, President of Pensacola Mardi Gras Inc., said, “We formed Pensacola Mardi Gras Inc. to showcase the downtown Pensacola area. We want to emphasize how great Pensacola is, and how much entertainment there is to offer. This year’s Mardi Gras will be bigger than ever; full of excitement and energy. We are proud to have Johanna Long, NASCAR truck series racer, as our Grand Marshall.” He went on to say, “We want to encourage more krewes to form, and to join, to really make the events bigger and bigger each year, and to really show off Pensacola’s Mardi Gras spirit. As an example of our spirit, during the recent inaugural parade for the Governor, the Escambia County delegation was the only one who threw beads.”

What we have today is months of parties, parades and balls. Each krewe has something special to offer the community.

“Krewe” officially means any of several groups, with hereditary membership, whose members organize and participate as costumed paraders in the annual Mardi Gras carnival. In the Pensacola area alone, there are over twenty-five krewes: LaFitte, Junkanoo, Warriors, Jesters, Voodoo, St. Patrick, Wrecks and Seville, just to name a few. Most hold monthly meetings and have floats in all the parades. Each krewe requires membership, and they hold elaborate Mardi Gras balls. The balls are highly regarded social events complete with full costume regalia.

One Pensacola krewe, the Krewe of Lafitte, was founded in 1954 as a way to celebrate the Fiesta of Five Flags. They maintain a steady 250-pirate membership. Currently, their parade consists of 13 lighted floats that show twice a year. The krewe also has two traveling floats they take from Gulfport, Miss. to Bradenton, Fla. All of the floats are designed, built and maintained by the krewe. As Karl Nessamar, Vice President of the Krewe of Lafitte, says, “We have a lot of talented folks in our group.” When you hear the cannon sound, Lafitte is on his way.

There is real camaraderie among the krewes. As Jeff Goudy, current Captain (Head Wreck) of the Krewe of Wrecks, says, “It is a close-knit group. We all reference each other’s krewes on our websites, we participate in each other’s parades and do all we can to make it a successful Mardi Gras season.”

Nessamar, who has been with the Krewe of Lafitte for 12 years, agrees with that sentiment. “We all do work well together to benefit the community. We are a highly organized band of pirates.”

This year, the Krewe of Lafitte is proud to present their Grand Marshall, Josh Sitton, offensive guard for the Super Bowl championship team the Greenbay Packers. The NFL Alumni Association recently named Sitton the 2010 Offensive Lineman of the year.

Beads, moon-pies, doubloons, cups, stuffed animals and krewe-exclusive throws are the order of the day when the parades start. Some of the younger crowd runs along the sidewalks of the parade route, hoping to fill up their shopping bags with all the overthrown throws.

RECYCLE

Whether you’ve been to one parade or a hundred, more than likely you have accumulated bags full of beads and don’t know what to do with them. There is a solution. ARC Gateway provides job opportunities for adults with developmental disabilities. Your donated Mardi Gras beads are sorted and packaged by adults in the ARC Gateway program to be sold to area krewes for future parades. Donated beads may be dropped off at: ARC Gateway, 3932 N. 10th St.; Chamber of Commerce on Garden Street; Whitney Bank on Garden Street; State Farm on Palafox; RBC Bank on Palafox; and all Publix and Winn Dixie locations. For more information, please call 434-2638.

Angie Newman with ARC says, “We are very grateful that the businesses, citizens that donate their beads, and the krewes purchasing the recycled beads, have embraced this program. It helps us fund our operation here and reduces waste.”

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PENSACOLA MARDI GRAS WEEKEND KICKOFF, JAMBALAYA JINGLE & BEER PONG TOURNAMENT
WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday, March 3
WHERE: Vinyl Music Hall, 2 S. Palafox
COST: 5 beans for $5
DETAILS: pensacolamardigras.com

KREWE OF LAFITTE ILLUMINATED PARADE
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, March 4
WHERE: Downtown Pensacola
COST: Free
DETAILS: kreweoflafitte.com

NAVARRE KREWE OF JESTERS PARADE
WHEN: 1 p.m. Saturday, March 5
WHERE: Navarre Beach
COST: Free
DETAILS: navarrekreweofjesters.com

PENSACOLA GRAND MARDI GRAS PARADE
WHEN: 2 p.m. Saturday, March 5
WHERE: Downtown Pensacola
COST: Free
DETAILS: pensacolamardigras.com

KREWE OF WRECKS PARADE
WHEN: 2 p.m. Sunday, March 6
WHERE: Pensacola Beach
COST: Free
DETAILS: kreweofwrecks.com

KREWE OF WRECKS RED BEANS & RICE
WHEN: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday, March 7
WHERE: Casino Beach parking lot
COST: Free
DETAILS: kreweofwrecks.com

FAT TUESDAY PRISCUS PROCESSION & PUB CRAWL
WHEN: 5 p.m. Tuesday, March 8
WHERE: Seville Quarter, 130 E. Government St.
COST: Free
DETAILS: pensacolamardigras.com

MARDI GRAS MADNESS WITH BIG SAM’S FUNKY NATION
WHEN: 9 p.m. Friday, March 4
WHERE: Vinyl Music Hall, 2 S. Palafox
COST: $10-$15
DETAILS: vinylmusichall.com

Mardi Gras Saturday Jam W/Brooks, Timberhawk & DJ Nick B
WHEN: 1 p.m.  Saturday, March 5
WHERE: Vinyl Music Hall, 2 S. Palafox
COST: Free for 21 and Up
DETAILS: vinylmusichall.com