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The History and Traditions of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras Throws

EVERYTHING VISITORS AND LOCALS MUST KNOW ABOUT THE TRADITION OF MARDI GRAS THROWS IN NEW ORLEANS

Mardi Gras Parade-goers in New Orleans don’t just stand by and watch. Parades are an interactive experience where people dance and scream, “Throw me something, mister!” to acquire beads and various throws. According to the Audubon Institute, float riders toss about 25 million pounds of beads throughout the season to honor a beloved carnival tradition.

The History of Mardi Gras Throws

The Twelfth Night Revelers began the tradition of throws alongside Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans in the late 1800s. As the first parade rolled, a person dressed as Santa Claus would toss trinkets and gifts into the crowd.

In 1884, the Krewe of Rex fostered the throw tradition by cultivating signature throws. Glass beads were more affordable than gifts. Additionally, medallions were used as throws and sported the krewe’s emblem. These items became a krewe and crowd-favorite. Parade-goers can still catch vintage glass beads and doubloons reminiscent of old traditions at most parades if lucky enough.

What are Mardi Gras Throws?

Mardi Gras throws are items like beads, doubloons, cups, and trinkets that float riders toss into crowds throughout the carnival season. As the parades roll through New Orleans, spectators gather to participate in the prized Mardi Gras practice.

Mardi Gras Beads

Beads were one of the first Mardi Gras throws to exist. The Krewe of Rex popularized glass beads, but safer options became more favored. Today, strings of beads are made of purple, green, and gold plastic, representing the traditional Mardi Gras colors.

Mardi Gras Doubloons

The Krewe of Rex tossed doubloons alongside beads when the tradition of throws started in the late 1800s. Unlike the original medallions, today’s doubloons are inexpensive and made of aluminum anodized in many colors. One side features the theme of the year’s parade, and the other is imprinted with the krewe’s emblem.

Mardi Gras Cups

Every year, Mardi Gras krewes print limited-edition plastic cups to throw at their parades. Mardi Gras cups have the year, parade theme, and krewe’s emblem printed on the outer surface. Locals collect the cups and use them all year long.

Signature Mardi Gras Throws

Locals and visitors cherish the signature throws that krewes toss every year. Signature throws are often hand-made items embellished with glitter, jewels, and krewe emblems. Some of the most famous signature throws include:

  • Zulu coconuts
  • Muses shoes
  • Nyx purses
  • Alla genie lamps
  • Carrollton shrimp boots
  • Athena fedoras
  • Iris sunglasses

Miscellaneous Mardi Gras Throws

Various miscellaneous items have become popular Mardi Gras throws over the years. Some krewes throw snacks like Moon Pies and Zapps chips. Other throws are children’s favorites, including stuffed animals, frisbees, and spears.

The Traditions and Common Practices of Mardi Gras Throws

Although it may seem like a colossal free-for-all, there are rules regarding Mardi Gras throws. Many customs, traditions, and practices accompany the doubloons and beads.

One of the most important rules is to avoid picking up throws from the ground. The crowds look up at the embellished floats, not down at the street. Picking up beads from the ground is dirty and can be dangerous. It is a tradition to claim doubloons by stepping on them — fingers included.

To get the best throws, people must shout, “Throw me something, mister!” at the riders. This traditional phrase also requires persistence and steady eye contact — fetching signature throws is hard work. Out of respect for others, stealing throws intended for someone else is a faux pas.

When the festivities end on Ash Wednesday, it is common practice for parade-goers to pack up all their beads. Many locals save and store them in their attics for the return of Mardi Gras next year.

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