Dallas Mardi Gras Parade

by John Cagney Nash

The Dallas Mardi Gras Parade and Festival takes place in downtown Dallas toward the end of February every year. The streets are transformed into a Texas take on New Orleans, with street entertainers and minstrels wending their way through al fresco cafe tables and themed food vendors. A fun run is organized and an after-dark parade is the highlight of the festivities.

The History of Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras season traditionally begins on or after Epiphany, January 6, reaching its crescendo the day before Ash Wednesday. The phrase itself--French for "Fat Tuesday"--references the last night of being able to enjoy excessively rich foods and drink alcohol before the ritualized fasting of Lent. In the U.S. the celebration is particularly associated with New Orleans, where masks, extraordinary costumes and floats, outrageous behavior and parades have all been elevated to art forms.

Location in Dallas

The Dallas celebration was originally focused around Victory Park but was moved in 2009 to encourage attendees to visit the historic West End, an area into which they perhaps would not normally venture for leisure. All business during the day, Dallas' downtown has a number of beautifully preserved historical buildings and the West End is home to upward of two dozen restaurants and bars, many of which operate sidewalk patios under the shade of tall live oaks.

Mardi Gras in Dallas

Much as the Dallas event is advertised as being modeled on the New Orleans pattern, local bylaws do not allow nudity, semi-nudity or open containers of alcohol. The Dallas PD is not known for its subtlety; the numbers of uniformed officers have drawn negative comment in past years, as has the presence of the police helicopter hovering over the parade route. While beads are thrown from the floats to bystanders, the traditional method of earning them is more likely to earn a citation than a garland.

Charitable Context

A five-kilometer evening fun run is organized each year, the registration fees being donated to a Dallas-area charity. Booths at the run start line collect donations appropriate to the year's good cause; for example, when a children's charity benefited, attendees were asked to donate diapers. A substantial proportion of the profits from event-specific merchandise is donated to the nominated charity.

The Mardi Gras Parade

The parade kicks off from the fun run finish line when most of the runners are in. Its route is published on several websites prior to the event and tourist information offices around the city have up-to-date information and fliers. Upwards of 30,000 people line the route to cheer the floats. The Dallas Cowboys' Cheerleader-packed 18-wheeler is always a highlight, especially when it gets stuck trying to turn the corner outside Hooters. People manning the floats throw candy and beads to the crowds. Owners of vintage bicycles vie with animals from the Dallas Zoo, marching bands and fabulously costumed individuals for the "Best Entry" prize, which is decided upon by a panel of judges, and a King and Queen are chosen.

French Quarter for a Night

The parade ends in the West End. Bands play on stages from approximately 6 p.m., including some Zydeco musicians, and food vendors with a NOLA touch, such as a crawfish boil, set out their stalls. Bars and restaurants along the route and in the "French Quarter" area are encouraged to arrange Mardi Gras-themed specials and a body painter is on duty to paint masks for those not wishing to wear the real thing all evening.


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