Five Fun Facts About Mardi Gras in Pensacola
If you’ve never experienced Pensacola’s Mardi Gras celebration, you’re in for a treat. Nobody does Mardi Gras quite like we do.
Here are five fun facts about Pensacola’s Mardi Gras celebration:
1. It starts on the Twelfth Day of Christmas
Mardi Gras in Pensacola actually kicks off on January 6th, or “the twelfth day of Christmas,” as the song says. While Pensacola doesn’t stick strictly to that date, the season officially starts on the first Saturday in January with a fantastic street party on Palafox Place in downtown Pensacola complete with a reverse parade and plenty of colorful krewe members. FYI – a reverse parade is one in which the floats and parade participants stay in place and the crowds walk through the streets. The season runs through Fat Tuesday (a.k.a. Mardi Gras), and there are activities happening virtually non-stop throughout.
2. Thousands of people make it a success
While Pensacola Mardi Gras Inc. acts as a central hub and sponsors some of the season’s biggest events, it takes a village to make Mardi Gras happen. More than 100 krewes — social groups that form to celebrate the season — participate and/or present their own events, with krewe memberships ranging from a handful of people to hundreds. In addition, many local businesses and organizations also take part. And at the biggest event, the Pensacola Grand Mardi Gras Parade, the parade line is typically made up of well more than 5,000 people. And that’s not even accounting for the tens of thousands of people who attend Mardi Gras events, with Grand Parade attendance regularly estimated at more than 100,000.
3. Krewes have a lot to do
In addition to the large parades and other public festivals, many krewes throw their own parties through the season. While a few are private affairs, many krewe balls are open to the public and feature dancing, music, pageantry and a great evening out. These events are typically for adults, but…
4. Pensacola’s parades are family friendly
Downtown Pensacola’s two parades, the Krewe of Lafitte Illuminated Night Parade and the Pensacola Grand Mardi Gras Parade take pains to make events safe and friendly for parade-goers of all ages. Line up along the route down Palafox Street, named one of America’s Great Streets, and get set to shout yourselves hoarse as you encourage paraders to shower you in beads, toys, MoonPies and other treats. Krewes love to take care of the kids, so you can be sure yours will go home loaded with fun throws and great memories. A third parade, the Krewe of Wrecks Parade, takes place on Pensacola Beach and is known for getting a little rowdier, but that’s a relative term, and plenty of families attend it, as well.
5. Don’t forget the food!
While Cajun- and Creole-inspired fare is not uncommon in Pensacola throughout the year, it gets a special emphasis during Mardi Gras season. Everywhere you look, you’ll find stores and restaurants offering traditional favorites such as red beans and rice, jambalaya, gumbo and especially the season’s must-have dessert, King Cake. This flaky pastry, typically covered with purple, gold and green sugar — the royal colors of the season — is unique for the tradition of secreting a small plastic baby doll somewhere in the cake. Superstitions differ on the significance of finding the baby in your piece of cake — some say it symbolized luck and prosperity, while others say it becomes the finder’s responsibility to purchase the next cake and/or to throw the next party. Either way, there’s plenty to eat and drink, and you should take advantage, since Fat Tuesday calls carnival season to an end and marks the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday, when believers are supposed to give all of that up until Easter Sunday. So you’d better pack in all the fun while you can!
For more on Mardi Gras in Pensacola, visit pensacolamardiagras.com, which features a complete seasonal calendar of events and links to every known krewe in the Pensacola area.
Happy Mardi Gras season! Laissez les bons temps rouler!
Julio Diaz is a freelance journalist with more than 20 years experience covering events, music, movies, food and pop culture, including more than 12 years as Entertainment Editor with the Pensacola News Journal. He is the host of Let’s Go, Pensacola, a weekly entertainment and events show on NewsRadio 92.3; the host of the Pensacola Movie Club; and the curator of the Merrill Movie Museum, one of the country’s most impressive collections of screen-used movie props and memorabilia. Those projects, as well as Pensacola's active nerd culture and hospitality scenes, have made Pensacola his home.