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There’s no need to head all the way down the Mississippi River to New Orleans for Mardi Gras when you have several festive choices right here in Arkansas.
Growing up in south Mississippi, I am no stranger to the revelry, tradition and of course, letting the good times roll during Carnival season – Mardi Gras. It was even a college holiday for us. I love the history, the music, the food, the culture, and of course, the parades! Thankfully, as a Mardi Gras-loving Arkansan for the past 25 years, there are many opportunities for me to celebrate right here in The Natural State.
Literally “Fat Tuesday” in French, Mardi Gras is intertwined with the Lenten season traditions of the Roman Catholic Church. The Mardi Gras tradition in the United States began in 1703 with a celebration by French settlers in the city of Mobile, the first capital of colonial French Louisiana. When the colonial capital of Louisiana was moved to New Orleans in 1723, the Mardi Gras tradition moved along with it and has been synonymous with the city’s identity ever since.
Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, an influx of Louisiana folks relocated to Arkansas, and since then, Arkansas’s Mardi Gras celebrations have risen to new levels. King Cakes of all sizes, shapes and flavors can be bought in bakeries around the state. Mardi Gras falls on (Fat Tuesday) Feb. 21 this year, and several cities will host public celebrations the weekend before complete with parades and parties.
The spirit of New Orleans Mardi Gras is alive and well in Eureka Springs, thanks to the Krewe of Krazo, a group formed by New Orleans residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina. In 2006, the first “Eureka Gras,” was held and this year they anticipate larger, more family-focused parades as new krewes have been formed.
The main events for the public are two parades through downtown Eureka Springs. The night parade takes place at 6 p.m. Feb. 11, and features floats and lots of lights. Billed as the “Ozarks’ biggest Mardi Gras Parade,” the day parade starts at 2 p.m. Feb. 18.
The Krewe of Barkus is a community group where dogs and their humans come together, and they’ve become quite famous for leading the Eureka Gras Day Parade featuring lavish costumes. Join this Krewe on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023, from 5:30 p.m. – 7 p.m. as they are featured in the Eureka Gras Light & Sound Parade.
In its 30th year, the city of Fayettville will host the city’s Mardi Gras celebration. Nineteen years ago, the Fat Saturday Parade of Fools, with plenty of candy and beads, was added to the festivities. It will take place this year at 2 p.m. Feb. 18, starting on the Fayetteville Square and continuing along Block Street to Dickson Street, the city’s main entertainment district.
Little Rock’s SoMa (South Main) neighborhood block party and a parade will be rolling on Feb. 18. The block party, which starts at 11 a.m. and continues to 5 p.m., includes music, the 10th annual Little Rock Beard & Mustache Contest presented by The Root Café and the Arkansas Times, local vendors, food trucks and activities for kids. The “Superheroes & Villians” themed parade, complete with floats and participants loaded with beads, starts at noon.
Head to southwest Arkansas where Texarkana will host its 8th annual Mardi Gras Parade at 3 p.m. Feb. 18. The Rollin’ Down Broad parade will travel through the streets of downtown Texarkana with floats, marching and dance groups, classic cars, jeeps and more. Come early for food trucks and craft vendors, which open at 10 a.m., and stay late for after-parties in downtown venues.
Celebrate Mardi Gras at The Vapors in Hot Springs on Feb. 18. Live Music, Cajun buffet, casino games, silent auctions, raffles, and more. They will have a 6-piece jazz band “The Masqueraders” provided in conjunction with the Hot Springs Jazz Society and a silent auction benefiting them and the Musical Notes Foundation, as well. The Blues Brothers will take the stage at 9:30 p.m. A Cajun buffet consisting of muffulettas, gumbo, red beans and rice, bread pudding, and more to nibble on while you enjoy the bands from 7-9 or while it lasts. The party will continue until after midnight so get your Krewe together and join the fun.
Regardless of where or how you celebrate Mardi Gras this year, be sure to remember the classic Mardi Gras mantra: “Laissez le bons temps rouler!”
Check with local Arkansas bakeries to see if they are making authentic King Cakes. Or try these easy cupcakes I made recently that were easy, festive and delicious.
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