fueled by mardi gras

As the Cajuns say, Mardi Gras is upon us!

As the Cajuns say, Mardi Gras is upon us!

Mardi Gras is not only America’s biggest, craziest, longest and most infamous annual party, but it’s also arguably the oldest.

Since at least 1699, the City of New Orleans has thrown a rather wild two-week celebration that culminates on Shrove Tuesday (or Fat Tuesday), the day before Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of Lent in the Catholic tradition.

Mardi Gras is also celebrated in parts of Alabama, Florida and Texas. But let’s be fair, nobody does it like Louisiana, where more than 80 parades and hundreds of parties and masquerade balls are thrown day and night in The Big Easy.

Even if you set aside the millions of gallons of fuel associated with travel and parade floats— the Mardi Gras just wouldn’t be the same without a number of rather festive uses of petroleum that have come to define its exceptional party atmosphere. Just think about all those wigs, masquerade masks, fake neon feathers and plastic cups.

Every year, about 1.4 million people — traveling from around the country and the four-corners of the planet — fly or drive to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Juxtapose that with the city’s year-round population of just under 345,000 residents.

Partygoers wear a combined 25 million pounds of green, gold and purple beaded necklaces made from polystyrene and polyethylene.

The February fete is a serious and sacred part of New Orleans culture, as seen in the distinct, creative nature of neighborhood social clubs or “krewes” and the songs, chants, fashions, foods and other customs they produce.

Motorized floats are constructed and adorned with a number of materials, both natural and synthetic, all of them painted in vibrant colors.

On those floats, as well as the balconies above the streets of the French Quarter, revelers toss various kinds of plastic “throws” into the crowds. The most common “throws” are strings of colorful plastic beads, decorated cups, small inexpensive toys, and doubloons or multicolored plastic coins.

One report says the city will cycle through more than 1.5 million plastic cups, most of them likely filled with the traditional Hurricane rum cocktail.

Even sober, the grandiosity of the Mardi Gras Indian costumes are enough to knock you off your feet. Each ostrich-plume-covered outfit is handmade and has more than 100,000 plastic beads and sequins sewn onto it, weighing in at about 150 pounds.

Let’s run down a list of petro-powered Mardi Gras must-haves:

Beads

Boas

Doubloons

Fake plastic trumpets and saxophones

Floats

Kazoos

Mardi Gras Indian costumes

Masks

Parasols

Party hats

Plastic glasses

Ribbons

Sequins

Straws

Synthetic feathers

Mardi Gras is brilliantly vibrant. It’s a celebration of the senses — of saturated color, sound, food and character. It’s a party you can lose yourself in while discovering historic connections to some of America’s oldest cultural enclaves. And petroleum helps keep the party going strong.