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Move over New Orleans – Lake Charles is our new favourite destination for Mardi Gras

Simon Calder’s Travel

Located on the Interstate 10 freeway connecting Louisiana and Texas, Lake Charles was once a popular hangout for cowboys and even pirates. Today, it attracts many Houston residents who spend the weekend here – either in one of the casinos or outdoors on the Creole Nature Trail.

This industrial town has witnessed many destructive storms over the decades, but its residents are a resilient bunch and haven’t forgotten how to have a good time. And given that this is Louisiana, that includes, of course, celebrating Mardi Gras with their respective parade krewes and dancing away to zydeco music over Sunday brunches.

Mardi Gras in New Orleans has a pulsating energy, a combination of street party and wild carnival that has to be seen to be believed. But ask any local across the Pelican State and they’ll proudly tell you about the real Mardi Gras celebrations taking place beyond the capital.

Celebrations in Lake Charles are a lot more personal, with a family feel. Lake Charles-based historian Adley Cormier believes that in the rural areas, the chaos of Mardi Gras is more controlled: “Following a Mardi Gras run by car, which many people do, allows the viewer to engage in what is being witnessed, as opposed to being one single face in a crowd of masked folk having various degrees of fun.”

Participants in the Lake Charles Mardi Gras jeep parade

(Kathryn Shea Duncan)

Over the years, Mardi Gras in Louisiana was adopted and modified by protestant American culture, which valued the social aspects of the season. “It is a fresh opportunity for a party after Christmas and well before spring, at a time when, frankly, there was very little to do in the drab and humid late winter,” Cormier explains. “[Mardis Gras is] the original day of masked madness prior to Lent, expanded into an entire season of levity, exploration and indulgence, albeit one that forced a deadline mandated by the church.”

In New Orleans, after partying and being pelted by beads and other paraphernalia, you’re likely to enjoy an array of delicacies at eateries in the French Quarter. In Lake Charles and its neighbouring parishes, the party is still very much a communal affair between neighbourhoods, where you’ll find numerous free activities to get involved in, including chicken runs, mask making, gumbo-cooking fundraisers, king cake decoration parties and…

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