Yelling for moon pies, wrestling over beads, dancing with the marching bands, and running to catch the parade multiple times a few blocks over are just a few of the most enduring memories of my childhood and Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras in Mobile and on the Eastern Shore has a storied tradition and today we’ll talk about a brief history, some differences between Mobile and Eastern Shore parades, some tips on catching the best stuff, and some easy safety plans for you and your family.
Mardi Gras was, of course, started in Mobile (long before New Orleans) way back in 1703 as a festival called Boeuf Gras, which is French for “fatted ox”! However the first inklings of the Mardi Gras as we know it today with official organizations had their first parade in 1840. Then, in 1866, Joseph Stillwell Cain donned full Chickasaw Indian regalia and paraded to boost the morale of the city during the Civil war. Now we honor him on the Sunday before Fat Tuesday with the infamous Joe Cain Day parade. Mardi Gras in Mobile has evolved over the years to include multiple societies, complete with parades and formal balls prior to the Lenten season which starts the next day on Ash Wednesday.
In addition to the Mobile scene, Mardi Gras has expanded to include all of Mobile and Baldwin Counties. However, there are a few differences between Mobile and the surrounding areas. Mobile is much larger in terms of the individual parades, float size, bands, and the amount of throws you catch. But with this bounty comes bigger crowds and more traffic. The non-Mobile areas tend to feature smaller parades and floats, less bands and potentially less throws, but are much less crowded and very family friendly. On the Eastern Shore there are multiple parades in Fairhope, Daphne, Foley and at the Gulf.
Now, for those who are new to the area, there are some tricks to catching the good stuff. The most common throws are moon pies and beads, so let the riders know what you want. As a rider and a pediatrician, I have a sympathetic eye for kids—so hold them up and you will be rewarded. If you know a rider in a specific parade, then make a sign and make it big. It’s almost impossible to pick out individuals in a crowd of jumping and cheering people. And if you see someone with a poster, get near them; you will catch a lot of misfired throws. Last, but not least, we riders like a challenge, so anyone with a funny poster or on a balcony will get pelted.
Of course, Mardi Gras cannot be enjoyed unless you follow some simple rules. First of all, the parades on the Eastern Shore have few if any barricades. Therefore children can jump out in front of vehicles and floats really easily. Oftentimes good throws will get stuck in the middle of the road, but please wait until the parade is over to collect the goodies. And have a safety plan in case anyone gets lost. Usually meeting at the car or on a certain corner are good plans. So, please enjoy Mardi Gras, but be safe. You can learn all about the history and scheduling of this wonderful celebration on the internet by looking for “History of Mobile Mardi Gras”.