Mardi Gras beads. Why spend time writing a post about Mardi Gras beads? The answer is that Mardi Gras beads are more than just beads. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then you are among the unfortunate people who have never been to Mardi Gras. David and I have had the pleasure of attending 7 Mardi Gras celebrations, involving countless of parades and an amazing number of beads. I am a relentless observer of human behavior and I have enjoyed, immensely, seeing people’s reaction to catching Mardi Gras beads. These brightly colored beads, made in a variety of shapes and sizes, are inexpensive pieces of faux jewelry that, despite their overall worthless nature, have an almost magical ability to make people smile. Many people will do just about anything to catch the beads, gleefully shouting, “Throw me something mister” to men and “Throw me something sista’” to women who are throwing beads from floats or balconies during Mardi Gras. Catching the beads, then wearing as many as one’s neck can hold, are a huge part of every Mardi Gras celebration I have attended. But the enjoyment of Mardi Gras beads doesn’t end when Mardi Gras is over, at least not for me. Many years ago, when I decided there was no reason to keep hundreds of beads David and I had caught, then saved, from past Mardi Gras parades, I wondered what to do with them. They, in my opinion, are fun, pretty, and kind of special and I just couldn’t throw them in the trash. An idea came to me, I acted on it, and I have continued my tradition for 25 years: When Mardi Gras is over and the beads have served their primary purpose, I take them to a nursing home, adult day care center, and/or an assisted living facility where they are used as prizes for Bingo or other games; rewards for good behavior; or just worn by the residents who enjoy matching the beads with their clothing (beads are worn by men, as well as women). I recently delivered beads to a nearby assisted living facility and the reaction I received was akin to giving someone a million dollars! The beads have a remarkable effect on people; they make even the saddest, loneliest person come alive with their brightly colored hues! Sometimes, all it takes is something as simple as Mardi Gras beads to make a positive difference in other people’s lives. Try it!
Beads, Beads, good for the heart, to borrow a phrase, with apologies to all. But, seriously, having been on the receiving end of thousands of bead throws, it is hard to explain the excitement of catching, or trying to catch them – it gets competitive. Most people know that, in New Orleans at least, there is, or was, a risqué side of bead throwing – this was not present in places other than New Orleans, and I can report this tradition seems diminished as a result of some local laws. But whether a person is a child or an adult, the excitement of a parade and flying beads, and other “throws” is tremendous. We’ve flown with, and shipped home, many pounds of beads. It’s silly, I know, but lots of fun is silly! Having now added riding a New Orleans Mardi Gras float to our resumés, our new perspective enhanced the bead experience. Prior to riding the float, our Krewe had balcony parties in the French Quarter. This gave us time to get familiar with beads and learn how to manage and throw them – it actually took a little effort to figure out the strategy and to build up stamina for throwing them for hours. On Mardi Gras day, we boarded the float to find 10, 12, maybe 16 bags and boxes of beads, cups, and toys to throw to the screaming crowds for the next 2-4 hours. It turned out to be quite a bit of work to unpack them, and get them ready to throw. But, the throwing was worth it. Being the giver, not the receiver, was heart warming – as noted when I started this post. People of all ages, races, sizes, and shapes clamor for them! There was little time for us newbies to think of a strategy, and as out of towners, we weren’t looking for family and friends. But the most amazing thing happened consistently throughout the parade and beyond. People said “thank you!” upon catching our beads! It seemed almost everyone thanked, waved, or otherwise acknowledged us when we threw the beads or other throws their direction. Some people were quite a distance away, on a balcony, or behind a fence/gate; these folks really seemed to appreciate the effort. My sore arm the next day notwithstanding, it was fun. And, I ended up with leftovers as we got partially rained out – leftovers I spent time distributing around town the next day as I walked around New Orleans. Parade or not, people seemed to enjoy and appreciate the gift of these trinkets. Mardi Gras season is part of a religious observance for some people. For others, it seems to be part of sharing human existence. Apparently, some people criticized the city of New Orleans for holding the usual Mardi Gras festivities the year following Hurricane Katrina. However, now, after being on the throwing end, I see how meaningful such an event was. The residents and visitors participating in Mardi Gras everywhere share the parades and weeks surrounding the celebrations – it is a happy time. Everyone can use more happy times! We may have been tired from throwing beads, but it was refreshing to see so many people, of so many backgrounds, come together in this way. It was good for the heart!