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Despite the devastating hurricane season in 2005, New Orleans is once again hosting the world-renowned annual Mardi Gras, a carnival that was first celebrated in its present form in 1856 and has earned a reputation for being the most scandalous and sensational annual event on the world's festival calendar. The origins of the carnival can be traced back to Roman times, but the date is based on the Christian calendar. Traditionally Mardi Gras day falls on 'Fat Tuesday', the day before Ash Wednesday, usually occurring during late February or early March each year. The history and traditions of the New Orleans Mardi Gras are confusing and complicated, but what it all means to revelling visitors is a series of ever-more exciting spectacular street parades through the French Quarter starting about 10 days before Fat Tuesday, building up to the big day. The whole affair turns into a major street party, with traditional strings of beads being exchanged in return for favours.
New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
In late April, just before the onset of the summer heat and humidity, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is held in various locations. Numerous stages simultaneously present a vast cross-section of musical performances by top artists, ranging from traditional New Orleans jazz to Gospel, country, rap, hip-hop and Creole zydeco. In addition to the hundreds of performances and thousands of musicians the festival includes numerous food stalls and hundreds of arts and crafts displays making it a true celebration of the city's culture and heritage.
St Patrick's Day
No sooner has New Orleans recovered from the revelry of Mardi Gras than it starts all over again, with the celebration of St Patrick's Day being the perfect reason for another round of parades and parties through the downtown area, centred on Bourbon Street. Traditionally it is a day for the locals to gather on the streets and pavements with picnic baskets and umbrellas. Groups parade dancing down the street in costumes of green, dispensing flowers, beads and kisses to the spectators to the tune of amplified live bands on floats and trucks. The most popular 'throws' that the crowd vies for on this day are cabbages, carrots, onions and the odd potato. For more information phone (504) 525 5169.
Gay Easter Parade
Parades and parties are the order of the day again in New Orleans at Easter, this time when the city's Gay community turns out to celebrate under the auspices of the Easter Grand Marshals. Thousands of spectators line the streets of the French Quarter to watch the passing floats, carriages, walking groups, bands and motorcycles. Cross-dressing and nudity is not permitted, but apart from that anything goes with the costumes and conviviality.
French Quarter Festival
Featuring the 'world's largest jazz brunch' (with more than 40 booths serving specialities from well-known New Orleans restaurants), the annual French Quarter Festival is a showcase for local musicians and a gourmet chance to savour New Orleans flavour. On the music front 13 stages operate in the historic Vieux Carre district with a programme ranging from brass bands to gospel and traditional jazz. As far as the food goes there are all the classic New Orleans specialities like Jambalaya, Gumbo and bread pudding, with lots more besides. All this is spiced up with dozens of special events, many of them free, like fireworks over the Mississippi, art exhibitions, courtyard tours, music workshops and parades. For more information contact the Festival office on (504) 522 5730.
New Orleans turns out in style to celebrate the city's most beloved and famous son, Louis 'Satchmo' Armstrong, in the week of the star's birthday each year. The line up of events honouring the music man who promoted jazz around the world includes an outdoor festival featuring music performances and local food along with seminars and discussion groups. There are also activities for children, art exhibitions, a jazz mass, parade and a 'club crawl' on the programme, and most events are free. Phone (504) 522 5730 for more information.