THERE MAY NOT BE PARADES with colorful floats and crazed women who do just about anything for beads, but you can still be part of the Mardi Gras fun though you’re miles away from Bourbon Street. In fact, you really only need five things for a good ol’ fashioned Nawlinsstyle party in your own home: Music, masks, costumes, beads and king cake. Put it together with some decorations in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of gold, purple and green, and you’ve got a Big Easy bash.
The day most Yankees know as Mardi Gras is actually the end of the carnival season in New Orleans. This year, it’s Feb. 24, Fat Tuesday, just before Lent begins. But the season officially starts at Twelfth Night, which occurs 12 days after Christmas, and there are many celebrations around New Orleans. Carol Blake has been shipping party accessories from Louisiana around the country for more than a decade through her Web site, www.mardigrasday. com, and she says over the years more and more people from Ohio to Arizona to Florida are getting together to party on Fat Tuesday.
Nearly all of her business now is to patrons outside New Orleans. “If I see any trend,” she says, “I think people in the Midwest have a tendency to spend a bit more on their products. But that’s probably because if you’re in New York, there are a million places to buy beads. Outside of big cities, there’s not as much access to a wide variety.”
After Hurricane Katrina flooded her storage space, Blake had to find a new warehouse and business suffered a bit, but, like Mardi Gras itself, she’s made a comeback and is on track to have the best year ever, despite the dismal economy.
“People need a release, and good party is just the thing,” she says. You don’t have to spend a lot of dough to make a party fun, says Eduardo Xol of ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” and author of “Extreme Entertaining Made Simple.” Xol suggests offering Louisiana-style appetizers instead of a whole meal, and serving a theme drink to save on the alcohol, like, for example, the city’s signature Hurricane, a blend of rum, vodka, grenadine syrup and gin.
New Orleans natives will say they don’t spend much time on Bourbon Street, anyway, but instead attend costume parties and balls around the city where a king and queen are chosen and hosts serve king cakes, a sticky-sweet coffee cake baked with a teeny plastic baby inside. Whoever finds the baby either throws the next party, is named king or queen, or wins a prize, depending on the bash. Beads, masks, cups plates and napkins in the right colors can be found at any party store, or at big box stores.
“People get really into it, they stand on boxes, decorate wagons and trees and yards with the beads,” says Blake, who sells everything you’d ever need on her site. Xol suggests making it a costume party and handing out masks as friends arrive, then choosing a king and queen who get to decide what to do with the rest of the evening. “You could start out at a house then go on a pub crawl in costume to make it more like Bourbon Street,” he suggested.
As for music, it’s not easy to import a live jazz band, so instead splurge on some New Orleans style tunes from The Meters, the Rebirth Brass Band. If you don’t have the extra bucks, Xol suggests just making a playlist of funky songs. “No one will notice after a few drinks,” he quipped.
And in the end, it’s all about the attitude. “As long as you’re in good spirits, you’ll have a great time. That’s what it’s all about anyway,” Blake says. — Colleen Long, The Associated Press