Dallas' Mardi Gras Parade and Festival, taking place in downtown Dallas, is an annual event scheduled for the end of February. The streets along the route are transformed into a very Texas take on New Orleans; minstrels and street entertainers thread their way through al fresco cafe tables, where themed food and drink is served. A fun run is held before the parade, which itself starts at dusk.
The History of Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras began as a religious-based event, and the party season still kicks off on or after Epiphany. Traditionally, the celebrations peak the day before Ash Wednesday. The phrase "Mardi Gras" itself, which is French for "Fat Tuesday," references the last evening observers were able to enjoy rich foods and drinks containing alcohol; the ritualized fasting of Lent begins the next day. The event is strongly associated with New Orleans in the U.S., where thousands of masked revelers -- many in extraordinary costumes -- act out their fantasies and where the parade has been elevated to an art form.
Location in Dallas
The first city-sponsored Mardi Gras celebration in Dallas was centered around Victory Park, but in 2009 -- in an attempt to encourage attendees into an area not normally associated with leisure -- it was moved to the historic West End. Dallas' downtown is strictly commerce during the day but is home to some beautifully preserved historical buildings, and more than two dozen restaurants and bars keep the West End alive at night. Sitting with a drink on a sidewalk patio, under spreading live oaks, isn't most urbanites' first idea when thinking of the business district.
Mardi Gras in Dallas
The Dallas event is heavily advertised as modeled on New Orleans' pattern, but local bylaws forbid nudity, semi-nudity and the possession of open containers of alcohol. The Dallas Police Department does not have a reputation for subtlety, and in past years it has drawn negative publicity for its intolerance at this event -- which is, after all, a City affair -- and the numbers in which it has deployed uniformed officers. The police helicopter clattering above the parade route was also seen as something of a damper. Beads are still flung from floats, but the traditional exchange involved in their transfer is more likely to result in a citation than an award from the sponsors.
The evening 5 kilometer fun run is organized to benefit a local charity, with registration fees being donated to a good cause based within the metro area. In conjunction with the fees, a number of booths are set up close to the start line, where volunteers collect donations themed to the year's recipient; for instance, when a child-based charity was the beneficiary, attendees were encouraged to donate diapers. A substantial proportion of the profits made selling event-specific merchandise is also donated to the nominated charity.
The Mardi Gras Parade
The parade starts where the fun run finishes, when all but the last few runners have finished. The route is widely published beforehand on websites, in flyers and in the local press, and the full-time tourist information offices and kiosks around the city keep up-to-date information on hand. More than 30,000 people line the parade route to cheer on the floats. The 18-wheeler sporting the Dallas Cowboys' Cheerleaders is always a highlight, but never more so than when it got stuck turning the tight corner outside Hooters. Those riding the floats throw beads and candy to the crowds as the owners of vintage bicycles wend between animals and handlers from the Dallas Zoo, fabulously-costumed individuals vying for the "Best Entry" prize and marching bands. A panel of judges decides on the Best Entry and on a Mardi Gras King and Queen.
French Quarter for a Night
The parade terminates in the West End. Stages are set up and bands play from approximately 6 p.m., usually including some Zydeco musicians. Food vendors try to bring a NOLA flavor with crawfish boils, and bars and restaurants -- both along the route and in the "French Quarter" where the parade ends -- arrange Mardi Gras-themed specials. A body painter is tasked to painting masks on those wishing to preserve their anonymity but not wishing to wear a real cover-up all evening.
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