Professor Carl Nivale, Your Professor Emeritus of all things Mardi Gras
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 Frequent Inquiries
Famous natives of New OrleansTo you, gentle students of Carnival,

     Your humble Professor is always available to answer you questions concerning Mardi Gras and celebrations across the world.  The continued propagation of Carnival and all the celebrations across the globe is the primary reason for the existence of this Compendium.

Below, you will find a listing of the most-asked questions concerning Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  Please view the listing first, to see if perhaps your question has already been addressed.  However, if you should happen to have a question that we have not already answered, please feel free to electro-mail 
me and ask your Carnival question.

     Thank you,
     Prof. Carl Nivale

Why do the dates for Mardi Gras change?
Are there all-male and all-female krewes?
Why do the locals put up ladders for parades?
Krewe or superkrewe?
Do you have to wear a masque?
Is it true that 'anything goes' at Mardi Gras?
What do the colors of Mardi Gras mean?
Who had Mardi Gras first?

Q:  Why do the dates of Mardi Gras change every year?  It all seems so arbitrary.
from John Beresford Tipton in a van just outside Tuscon, Arizona

This is one of the most asked and least understood parts of Carnival; and, what should be an interesting answer is,  in actuality,  very long and boring and overly-detailed.  With that in mind, I shall endeavor to present this as interestingly as is possible.

The Druidic Lunar Calendar contributes to determining the dates for Mardi Gras.Once upon a time, back before Christianity hit it big, there were a large troupe of religious-types in robes called the Druids.  Now, the Druids were a quiet bunch, kept to themselves a lot, and basically took on the responsibility for performing rites for the body and the soul, for marriages and burials, and everything else.  The Druids also had a great sense for culture, and were regarded in some circles as being the most fair and wise.  However, by the time Caesar began holding the first cocktail parties, the Druids had gotten a reputation for being a bit snobbish.  Some say they were so stiff, they worshiped wood, but this is mostly belived to be bad press from certain members of the Roman empirate (we're looking at YOU, Tiberius...)
Still, the Druids did wield some power at the time the Christian calendar was being formed; so much so that a considerable portion of the known world at the time was using the Druid's lunar calendar, as opposed to the Roman solar calendar.  (Now, in all fairness it must be stated that Rome's Julian calendar is the simpler of the two, but when you've already learned it one way it's hard to change.)  Anyway, in order to keep everyone happy (and because the Christians themselves were a little iffy on the actual dates of some things), the lunar calendar was adopted to calculate what the church now calls "moveable feasts."  This refers to feasting days that hardly ever fall on the same day of the year.  Mardi Gras is considered a moveable feast.  There is also the Hebrew calendar to be considered in the equations, which is a very difficult calendar indeed.  Suffice it to say that it is all very, very complicated and requires the constant time and attention of literally hundreds of theologians and mathematicians. 
At any rate, you need never worry about  just when Mardi Gras will occur.  Just click here to go to The Compendium's Schedules and Times page to see all the dates for Mardi Gras for the next 15 years.


Q:  Some krewes are all-male or all-female, and some are not.  Why is that?
from Terry DeGaulle in Gretna

There are krewes that are all-male and all-femaleA:  For over a century  krewes existed not only as parading entities, but as social aid societies, business clubs, and pleasure groups created by common bonds.  Exclusivity is an integral part of these groups, a tradition that was assumed from the Creoles and their notoriously closed society functions.  Indeed, it was that exclusivity that necessitated the creation of the Mystick Krewe of Comus, which ushered in modern Mardi Gras.  Basically, the thinking there is:
You won't let us in your krewe, so we'll just go start our own krewe!  Sounds childish, I know, but it did foster the creation of literally hundreds of krewes throughout modern Carnival, all based upon the ideal of individual, self-governing entities producing their own parades and balls.  With that power comes the autonomy to select their own membership criteria, and very often the criteria came down to male and female.
In 1991, city councilwoman Dorothry Mae Taylor spearheaded a controversial resolution demanding that ALL parading krewes admit anyone who wished to join.  While this ordinance was sold to the people of Orleans Parish as a great equalizer, it turned out to be so unpopular that it is hardly even used today, with krewes like Muses still allowed to roll through as an all-female organization, and the Krewe of Ancient Druids allowed to be an all-male organization.


Q:  Why do the locals put up ladders and such during the parades?  Isn't that dangerous?
from Tondelayo Breckenridge in Fat City, Metaire, Louisiana

Parade ladders look unsafe to tourists, but there are safety rules they must follow.A:  Because they know how, and yes, and no.  New Orleanians know how to enjoy the excesses of Carnival in the safest way possible.  They also know how to catch the maximum amount of beads, cups, doubloons, and anything else hurled from a moving float; get up as high as you can.  Those ladders you see on the parade route follow certain rules set down decades ago:

Ladders cannot be taller than 8 feet at the seat
Seat must have a restraining bar or belt
Persons on ladders must be either children or under 100 lbs. (some situations may also going by height)
Ladders must be placed at least one and one-half of the ladder's height away from the curb
Ladder must be monitored by an adult at all times.
Ladders cannot be tied together in groups, or placed in intersections

The fine members of the local constabularies in Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard, and surrounding parishes, regularly patrol the parade routes, watching to see that all of these requirements are met before and during the parades.


Q:  What is the difference between a krewe and a superkrewe?
from  Uberta deMalaise in Ontario, Canada

What is the hierarchy of krewes and superkrewes?A:  For our purposes, a "krewe" is any Carnival organization that gathers together for either a parade, a ball, or for civic or social reasons.  Krewes are broken down into three main subgenres; parading, ball krewes, and civic.  Withing the parading subgenre we find the classes of walking clubs, parading krewes and superkrewes.  Superkrewes are generally defined as those parading organizations whose memberships exceed the 500 mark and regularly present the largest, or grandest, or most expansive parades of the season.  However, your humble Professor also includes in this class those parades which occupy an important historical signifigance (such as Proteus) or which represent their entire community on Mardi Gras Day.  To avoid confusion, it should also be noted here that, while their numbers would certainly qualify them, truck parade krewes are a separate class of parading krewe altogether.


Q:  Do I have to wear a masque at Mardi Gras?
from Anonymous in Harvey, Louisiana

A:  Now, that is an iffy question. 
Maskers on floats are required by law to remain masked as long as they remain on the float, but that is an extenuating circumstance.  According to Rex, The Merry Monarch, all citizens and visitors to the City That Care Forgot are invited to masque, but there is no official legislation in Orleans Parish that absolutely require one to masque; so officially,  the answer to the question is no.
However, your Professor most heartily disagrees.  You should wear a mask at Mardi Gras, it is one of the very cornerstones of the celebrations for the last three centuries!  It is a tradition that goes back to the Roman roots of Carnival, and besides, its just plain fun, and that's the most important thing. 
It is not necessary to wear a cloth, satin, or leather mask - facepainting is perfectly acceptable (if maintained properly).  The tradition for masking in New Orleans dictates that masking begin at sunrise and continue, unabated, until sunset when all masks are to be removed.  In the case of facepainted revelers, they may continue to wear their paints for as long as they may last. 


Q:  Is it true that you can do just about anything you want to during Mardi Gras?
from the boys at  Psi Alpha Tau, Bucktown chapter

No, this is not the case at all, despite all the erroneous evidence to the contrary.  The police do indeed patrol the streets at the behest of The Merry Monarch, and fully enforce all laws and regulations.  For more on this question, visit the Do Not Do page of The Compendium.


Q:  What do the colors of Mardi Gras (purple, green, and gold) represent?
from admiralbuffy, via Electro-Mailing

The colors of Mardi Gras provide the celebrations with yet another link to legitimate royalty, the Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff.  Though the combination of these colors seems to be random (indeed, we are told that there are places in the world where people think these colors do not go together), it was the Grand Duke whom actually researched these hues through the rules of ancient hearldry:

PURPLE represents Justice
GREEN represents Faith
GOLD represents Power

Not only were these colors instantly adopted as the official colors of Mardi Gras by Rex and The School of Design, they also served as the colors for the royal House of Romanoff.


Do you have a question for the Professor?  Simply e-mail him here, and he will return your answer to you as soon as possible!

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