Who goes: More than 4 million people come to celebrate Mardi Gras from around the world.
What: Mardi Gras, French for Fat Tuesday, is the daylong highlight of the season. While Mardi Gras has pagan, pre-Christian origins, the Roman Catholic Church legitimized the festival as a brief celebration before the penitential season of Lent.
When: This year it started Jan. 6 and ends Feb. 8, which is Fat Tuesday. It is set to occur 46 days (the 40 days of Lent plus six Sundays) before Easter and can come as early as Feb. 3 or as late as March 9.
Where: New Orleans, LA
Why: Festivities start in New Orleans each year on the Twelfth Night feast of the Epiphany, the day that the three kings first visited Jesus Christ. Mardi Gras Day is now a legal holiday in New Orleans.
It's that time of year again. Plastic beads fall from the heavens while young men and women shame their family name with random acts of foolishness.
For decades, Mardi Gras has been one of the most legendary parties that our fair nation hosts. Many of us may have preconceived ideas about the scandalous events and activities that the month-long celebration entails, but I can assure you that the reality of Mardi Gras is far more immoral, and yet, entertaining, than you think. I had the privilege of going to Mardi Gras two years ago, and the things I witnessed while there both haunt and excite me to this day.
While probably not the most constructive way to spend your time, the long trip to New Orleans is definitely worth taking. A couple of nights walking the French Quarter is sure to itch the scratch that night after night of Fort Collins bars and house parties can't reach and fill your quota for bizarre observations for the rest of the semester.
Mardi Gras begins next week and draws the attention of tens of thousands of college students from across the nation. Attending the full celebration requires missing several days of classes, but hey, your teachers will probably appreciate the excuse of, "I was busy drinking with beautiful women." It's at least worth a shot.
Upon arriving at New Orleans, you will find that the daytime activities are also worthy of taking in, assuming your body permits you to wake up while the sun is still burning. The city of New Orleans is blanketed with street performers, parades and Cajun-style restaurants that will make you immediately wish you had brought double-quilted toilet paper.
The evening festivities, however, are what truly make Mardi Gras come to life. People march up and down the streets in what can be called, at best, organized chaos. The streets are lined with confetti, empty bottles and stray shoes, while the balconies above are lined with former "daddy's little princesses," who once wore ballerina slippers and pigtails but are now sporting pounds of 50 cent beads and a Girls Gone Wild tube-top that they "got for free!" Mardi Gras is not exactly where you would want to run into your little sister, if you catch my drift.
There is plenty more to the Mardi Gras experience than the rampant exhibitionism. Every couple of steps you will make a handful of new, temporary friends who will cheers you and make some form of obscenely masculine toast before moving on to "check in with the girlfriend" from a quiet corner. Before you know it, the sun is high and your new agenda becomes trying to remember the name of the hotel you're staying at.
The days continue on in this fashion of overindulgence and everyone who participates seems to pretty much have blocked out the impending call to reality, but the Mardi Gras party, like all parties, must eventually come to an end. The crowd dissipates, the beads become valueless souvenirs, and the Mardi Gras experience fades to the point of dizzy balcony memories.
If you should choose to make the journey to Mardi Gras this year, please remember to be careful with your decisions and try to remember, God is watching and people are videotaping like no other.