Nearly every year since the first official Mardi Gras parade in 1837, New Orleans has carefully marked the days until Easter, erupting into a colorful bacchanal when the calendar hits 47 days out from Easter Sunday. A melting pot of French, Spanish and Caribbean cultures, New Orleans is the perfect place for a Mardi Gras celebration, a party that signals the culmination of Carnival, the season from the Epiphany (January 6) to Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Literally translated to “Fat Tuesday,” Mardi Gras is meant to be a final celebration before the austerity of Lent, and has been celebrated since Medieval times (though it might also have roots in pagan rituals honoring fertility and the coming of spring).
New Orleans might be the biggest Mardi Gras celebration in the country, attracting some 1.4 million visitors each year, but it’s not the only place that celebrates the beginning of Lent with a raucous party (it’s not even the oldest party in the United States). Here are seven other places around the United States—and the world—that throw a Mardi Gras to rival the Big Easy.
New Orleans might boast the biggest Mardi Gras, but just two hours east, Mobile, Alabama, hosts the country’s original Fat Tuesday. Mobile first hosted a Mardi Gras celebration in 1703, predating any celebration in New Orleans by at least a decade. Settled as the capital of the French Louisana territory, Mobile hosted celebrations and parades until 1718, when the capital of French Lousiana was moved to New Orleans (Mobile, locals feared, was too susceptible to destruction by hurricane).
The celebration began again in Mobile in 1866 and continues today. In the weeks before Lent, some 40 parades run through the streets of Mobile, and the celebration attracts 1 million visitors each year.