Throw Me Somethin’, Mister!

So I’m from New Orleans.  Today is Mardi Gras.  In the rest of the country, that means….well, absolutely nothing.  But in parts of the Gulf South, it means drinking, eating, drinking, and catching beads (and coconuts, shoes, stuffed animals, plastic flowers, posters, doubloons…you get the picture). Oh, and it means drinking.  You might have heard.

Today the beads that are thrown are plastic and are shaped into brightly colored designs in clear, opaque, or “pearl”.  There are long and shorts versions.  There are LED versions.  And the goal is to catch enough beads so that you look roughly like a Maasai:


Once upon a time, though, before the proliferation of plastic, the beads thrown were beautiful Czech glass.

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They fell out of favor in the 60’s as plastic became the cheaper option and the wisdom of throwing something made of glass out in the streets was called into question.

Literally truckloads of beads are thrown onto the streets of New Orleans every year at Carnival.

Since it is considered rather gauche to wear these beads at any time outside of Carnival, one might wonder: What do you do with all those beads?  Well, a lot of them are recycled for future years, or kept in attics, or melted into paper weights or faux stained glass windows as kids’ school art projects.  (One might also call into question the wisdom of melting plastic in the oven, but…) Your other options are:

to decorate trees

or fences

or your car….



The other famous bead-related Mardi Gras tradition is that of the tribes of Mardi Gras Indians.  To honor the Native American tribes that took in runaway slaves and sheltered them from bounty hunters, members of the African-American community decided to dress in war regalia and parade, staging “battles” for whose tribe was foremost.  Each outfit is hand-crafted, including the very intricate beading, and each one is made afresh each year, with a rich of history of men passing down the crafting knowledge from father to son, from uncle to nephew.



Happy Mardi Gras!




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