My earliest memory of Mardi Gras is one gloomy parade day at the North Bay Parade. I was with my parents and sister. That particular parade was special. Because a friend of my dad’s let us use their parade stand. A parade stand is used to elevate kids over the crowds to eliminate their height disadvantage. By doing this, my sister and I made off like bandits that year. We had beads, cups, and MoonPies galore!
Another year, my dad and a friend rode the “Mullet Hop” float. My dad pretended to drive a chariot pulled by the fish! It was a lot of fun to be on the other side. I did not share this sympathy when I began high school and marched on the flag team in parades.
Besides the glamor, the balls, and other revelry, the parades are the main event. They can begin weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday and herald in the season like Christmas music after Halloween. I used to love trying to catch the most, the biggest, and unusual beads each season. My family would always have a massive pot luck at a local car dealership on the parade route. Honestly, Mardi Gras was as big of a family gathering as Christmas. My festive relatives would done on their painted, yes painted, sweatshirts in the classic purple green, and gold.
Now that I am older, and the rise of Marie Kondo I could care less about collecting more trinkets for my house. However, I still love to go to a few of my favorite parades and feel the energy of the season. Let’s take a walk down memory lane and learn a little history about the throws that make Mardi Gras so unique.
The original throws..
Back in the 1940s through 1960s beautiful Czech glass beads were thrown from floats. They were all kinds of colors, sizes, and shapes. Glass beads were replaced by plastic beads made in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and then China. The glass beads seem very fancy and are highly sought after collector items now.
Throughout big antique malls in New Orleans like the Magazine Antique Mall they are for sale for 30-60 dollars a strand!
Give me the booty…
Doubloons have been thrown throughout my lifetime. I did not realize until recently that they are a newer edition to Mardi Gras tradition. Doubloons were first thrown by the New Orlean’s Krewe of Rex in 1960. The Gulf Coast Carnival Association in Biloxi has doubloons for every year since 1966.
They often depict the theme chosen for the parades or the specific krewe that throws them.
A paper flower for a kiss…
At the original Mardi Gras parade in Biloxi in 1908 a group of young men joined into the parade. In honor of this group, who never joined the parade again, a marching club was formed in 1975. It is called the Ole Biloxi Marching Club. Now it caps membership at a certain number and only gives out paper flowers. (Originally it was any acceptable Mardi Gras trinket.)
Now what you must do to get the flower may shock your delicate sensibilities. In order to receive a flower, you must kiss a member of the marching group. That’s right, you have to kiss a tipsy stranger for a paper flower. Now, I am both appalled and charmed by the whole thing. And yes, I have participated and received my paper flower. I mean, it is a Mississippi Gulf Coast rite of passage.
Like the first Mardi Gras parades, Mobile is also attributed to beginning the tradition of throwing MoonPies as throws. Throwing MoonPies began after a ban was placed on throwing boxes of popcorn. As a replacement, the soft MoonPies made a parade debut in the 1970s. It was chosen because it is soft. However, the MoonPie as a throw was challenged in 1986 when parade goers were pelted with unopened boxes!
Fortunately, an agreement was made between the Carnival Association and the city to only throw MoonPies one at a time, and the tradition has continued. The tradition has obviously spread throughout towns that celebrate Mardi Gras along the Gulf Coast. It supposed me to find out that MoonPies come from Chatanooga, Tennessee and not New Orleans. They were actually created in 1917and are still manufactured there. I claim not to like them, but will sometimes snack on one between parades. With the flavors banana, strawberry, chocolate, vanilla, and now salted caramel there are plenty options to choose from.
Other Swag and Such….
Casinos were built again in Biloxi on barges beginning in 1992 with the Isle of Carpi. Many more followed. From this time until Hurricane Katrina, Mardi Gras throws were quiet exciting! It began with plastic beads in the shape of dice. Those were a big deal in the mid-1990s. Casinos threw anything they could post with their name. They threw retired playing cards from the Black Jack tables, cups, and special edition beads.
Coming to Mardi Gras now, you can expect to catch small plastic toys like footballs and Frisbees. You can also snag a koozie to cool your drink, or a plastic bottle with a local business. Today, beads are still shelled out and litter parade routes for months past Mardi Gras. You may even luck up and catch a pair of lucky underwear! Just don’t forget to cry out, “Throw me something mister!”