February 9, 2016 5:22 am

What you need to know: Mardi Gras season in New Orleans

Actor and native New Orleanian Anthony Mackie tosses Mardi Gras beads to fans as he reigns as King of Bacchus XLVIII in the 2016 Krewe Of Bacchus parade on February 7, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Mackie is the first African-American monarch for the krewe. (Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images)

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NEW ORLEANS – People across New Orleans Tuesday are marking the culmination of the Mardi Gras season with elaborate floats, eccentric costumes and marching bands.

Mardi Gras is the city’s biggest tourist attraction, and thousands of people have converged on the city in recent weeks to see the elaborate parades, floats, marching bands and dance groups that wind through the city’s streets.

WHAT ARE THE BIG PARADES?

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The day kicks off with the Krewe of Zulu parade put on by the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club, a historically black organization in New Orleans. Their parade dates back to roughly 1910. Then the Rex Organization, which dates back to 1872, will take to the streets. Rex’s history is closely tied with Mardi Gras traditions. For examples, Rex’s colours – purple, green, and gold – have become the symbolic colours of Mardi Gras as well. After Rex comes two truck parades, also along St. Charles Ave. and that marks the end of the major parades in the city until next year.

WHAT KIND OF THINGS CAN PEOPLE CATCH?

Riders on the floats, who generally wear masks, throw beads or other specially made trinkets to people along the parade route. Families line up early along the side of the street or on the median – called the neutral ground in New Orleans – to get a good seat. Families often make specially designed ladders with seats attached on top for young children to sit in so they’re better positioned to catch things. One especially prized “throw” are the coconuts given out by members of Zulu. The coconuts have been hollowed out and had the outside hair removed before they’re specially decorated with glitter or elaborate designs. They generally are not thrown from the floats but rather gently handed off to lucky bystanders.

WHAT ELSE HAPPENS?

There are other events and Mardi Gras traditions taking place across the city. The North Side Skull & Bone Gang gathers early in the morning to wake local residents on Fat Tuesday. They dress as skeletons to remind people of their mortality. The Mardi Gras Indian tribes are another tradition in the city. Members of the tribes spend months preparing elaborate costumes resembling Native American dress and on Fat Tuesday they travel through various neighbourhoods, chanting and dancing to songs passed down through generations. And while much of the city’s Mardi Gras activities are family-oriented, in the French Quarter many people will be partying and celebrating into the evening. After the celebration and revelry of Fat Tuesday is over, Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a solemn period of penance and spiritual renewal for many in this largely Catholic city.

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