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New Orleans' Carnival season marks Fat Tuesday with celebrities and pretend monarchs (WABE USA)

The Krewe du Belge plays during the Society of Saint Anne parade through Bywater and Marigny neighborhoods on Mardi Gras Day in New Orleans, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

Festivities marking Mardi Gras, the climactic day of New Orleans’ Carnival season, hit full swing early Tuesday, with costumed revelers gathering on the narrow streets of the French Quarter and families and tourists lining major thoroughfares to watch parades.

The Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club handed out its signature gift — hand-decorated coconuts — to adults and children as it moved down St. Charles Avenue. The procession of Rex, King of Carnival was to roll later in the morning.

Monday night featured the parade of the Krewe of Orpheus, co-founded by home-grown musician and actor Harry Connick Jr. In addition to elaborate floats and marching bands, participants included Connick himself, actor Neil Patrick Harris and Harris’ husband, David Burtka.

New Orleans has the nation’s largest and best known Carnival celebration. It’s replete with cherished traditions beloved by locals. But it’s also a vital boost to the city’s tourist-driven economy — always evident in the French Quarter.

“No strangers down here,” visitor Renitta Haynes of Chattanooga, Tennessee, said as she watched costumed revelers on Bourbon Street over the weekend. “Everybody is very friendly and approachable. I love that.”

She and her friend Tiffany Collins wore giant purple, green and gold bead necklaces as they sipped drinks.

The annual pre-Lenten festivities aren’t limited to New Orleans. Similar celebrations are held in Louisiana and along the Gulf Coast. Mobile, Alabama, where six parades were scheduled Tuesday, lays claim to the nation’s oldest Mardi Gras celebration. And other lavish Carnival celebrations in Brazil and Europe are world renowned.

Monday’s activities in New Orleans also included an afternoon “Lundi Gras,” or Fat Monday celebration on the Mississippi Riverfront, including live music. Part of the event was the annual ceremonial meeting of the man tapped to be this year’s King of Carnival — chosen by the Rex Organization, a predominantly white group with roots in the 19th century — and the man elected king Zulu, founded by Black laborers in the early 1900s. The meeting is a custom that began in 1999 in what was seen as a symbol of slowly eroding social and racial barriers.

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