Whether you call the Big Easy home or happen to find yourself just passing through, there’s no celebration quite like Carnival or Mardi Gras season in New Orleans. Being more than just a single day, Mardi Gras starts on Jan. 6 every year and culminates in the grand finale, Fat Tuesday, just before Ash Wednesday and the first day of Lent.
Known for everything from elaborate festivities, floats, parades, and beads to embellished costumes and masks, there’s another element of Mardi Gras that sometimes overshadows all others: alcohol.
Over time, Mardi Gras has evolved from the original traditions that helped define it as the cultural phenomenon millions of Americans celebrate today to include more statements of creativity and self-expression. But Mardi Gras has also become synonymous for some people with dangerous and sometimes destructive drinking habits. To learn more, we analyzed over 250,000 unique users posting about #MardiGras on Instagram to understand what makes it so unique, how it’s celebrated across America, and just how big a role alcohol plays in this iconic event. Read on to see what we uncovered.
Despite what you might think about the floats, beads, or costumes, Mardi Gras isn’t just an overhyped party thrown in New Orleans every year – it’s a tradition steeped in over 180 years of history. 1837 marked the first Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, and parade floats made their debut as far back as 1857. Over the years, Mardi Gras has only been canceled 13 times, typically during times of war. Most years, roughly 1.4 million people attend the celebrations. While New Orleans may not have been the birthplace of Mardi Gras, the city and state are nearly synonymous with Carnival and its festivities. In 2017, there were 1,187 Instagram posts tagged #MardiGras in New Orleans for every 100,000 residents, over 173 percent more than any other city in America.
Mardi Gras may be a staple in New Orleans, but that isn’t the only place you’ll find celebrations. Mardi Gras is a state holiday in Alabama and Florida, and cities including Mobile, Alabama; Orlando, Florida; and Lafayette, Louisiana; all ranked for their number of #MardiGras posts during the 2017 festivities.
Mobile, Alabama, was the first city to celebrate Mardi Gras in 1703 and hosts the second largest festival every year after the Big Easy. As a more family-friendly experience in Mobile, the energy between these two cities has been known to get competitive from time to time.
For residents and visitors to the Sunshine State, Orlando has a few additional family-friendly Mardi Gras activities to consider. Every year, Universal Orlando celebrates the season of Mardi Gras from February to April with nightly concerts in addition to traditional festival krewes, parades, and, of course, a lot of beads.
Many traditions come together to make Mardi Gras so special. The classic purple, green, and gold color scheme isn’t arbitrary – it was decided in 1872 and signifies justice, faith, and power, according to the Krewe of Rex, who picked them to honor a Russian grand duke at the time. The parades (there are seven in total) typically include between 70 and 75 floats that traverse designated routes throughout the city. Even the masks and beads have a special significance related to decade’s worth of history.
Outside of these traditions, there’s a common theme surrounding the locations most people end up once the parades and parties are over: alcohol. Tourists spend over $7 billion every year traveling to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, and excessive consumption is typically the name of the game for most visitors. Analysts admit it’s impossible to separate the Mardi Gras from “celebratory drinking,” and some nightlife hot spots are typically more popular than others during the main event period.
Bars, pubs, and taverns including Mimi’s In The Marigny, R Bar, Pat O’Brien’s, and Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar had more Instagram posts related to #MardiGras in 2017 than other locations. Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar can be found on Bourbon Street, where the most libationary celebrations can be found.
There are seven unique parade routes spread across New Orleans on Fat Tuesday, and Instagram posts since 2013 indicate many of the most common routes are sure to include excessive drinking along the way.
The words beer, drunk, and wine are among the most common accompanying #MardiGras posts where alcohol is concerned, and many of these were tagged along the traditional Mardi Gras parade routes culminating at the French Quarter and Bourbon Street.
Binge drinking to celebrate the holiday isn’t uncommon and may even be expected by some, but its dangers shouldn’t be understated. Defined as having more than five drinks in a row for men and four drinks for women, binge drinking can lead to dizziness, a loss of coordination, and blacking out in addition to other accidental injuries like vehicle crashes, falls, and drowning. In 2017, an intoxicated driver with a blood alcohol limit of .232 – three times the legal limit – drove a pickup truck into a Mardi Gras parade crowd, injuring 28 people. Drinking laws around the city are known to be relaxed in anticipation of Mardi Gras, although drinking in public is only technically allowed in the French Quarter.
From Louisiana to Alabama, Florida, and beyond, people across the country are taking part in the historical and iconic celebration of Mardi Gras. You may know the colors, costumes, and even the beads, but this celebration dates back hundreds of years and encapsulates the people, culture, and history of New Orleans and beyond. Drinking may also have become part of the tradition, but excessive consumption and binge drinking have colored Mardi Gras in a new and dangerous light in recent years. Even if standard drinking laws aren’t always in full effect during Mardi Gras, the dangers of alcohol misuse don’t disappear.
At Detox.net, we’re here to help you understand addiction and the process of overcoming substance misuse. Long-term alcohol misuse can lead to physical dependence, and attempting to quit without the right treatment can be difficult and dangerous. Whether you’re looking for inpatient care options, outpatient treatment, aftercare, or relapse prevention, our professional treatment advisors will help you find the care you need at a center near you. Alcohol is easy to find and often legal to purchase, but chronic and excessive consumption can lead to an alcohol use disorder. Visit us at Detox.net to learn more or to find the treatment you need today.
We scraped over 558,000 posts from Instagram containing the hashtag #MardiGras. We used Instagram’s API to collect these data. The scrape was performed from Feb. 9, 2013, to Jan. 28, 2018. In some cases, date ranges were filtered to look only at posts from Mardi Gras, occurring on Feb. 27, 2017, to March 1, 2017 at 12 p.m. We used the most recent city and state population estimates from Census.gov.
Limitations: We did not have a validated measure of the presence of alcohol in posts, so we created one on our own. Alcohol mentions were defined by the presence of the words “alcohol, booze, liquor, beer, booze, wine, vodka, whiskey, cocktail, drink, drunk, wasted” in photo captions. The data we are presenting relies on people posting to Instagram.
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