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Celebrate Mardi Gras Without Alcohol

A photo of a bicycle leaning against a wall with multicolored beads wrapped around the handlebarsPhoto credit: Mathieu via Unsplash

New Orleans is a beautiful, wonderful city. For those of us who frequent the city, live(d) in the city, or love the city, New Orleans sometimes comes with a complicated history for those of us who are sober. Although plenty of people found and continue to maintain sobriety while living in the Big Easy, it’s also a city known for its partying ways. I mean, Bourbon Street is legendary and I for one still shudder whenever I think about my drunken nights there. However, despite its reputation, NOLA can also be a wonderful place for folks who are sober—and especially for anyone who wants to celebrate Mardi Gras without alcohol.

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A Quick Mardi Gras History

Before we dive into celebrating Mardi Gras sans alcohol, let’s take a look at the significance of the holiday.

Mardi Gras, also known as “Fat Tuesday,” is the day before Ash Wednesday, which is the official start of Lent. The Lenten season holds much significance in the Christian tradition. It’s a 40-day period used in preparation for Easter—and thus the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—and during this time, many Christians observe Lent by giving up one of their vices. For many, alcohol is a popular vice to give up. So the day before Lent begins, people indulge in a carnival-style party where basically, anything goes.

This party, which dates back to the Medival Times, became an integral part of the fabric of New Orleans in the 1730s, not long after the French settled in the area. By the 1800s, Mardi Gras evolved into a series of processions and parades, put on by various “krewes”—groups of masked people who conceptualized and put on the various parades and processions.

The celebration morphed and changed as it grew and time went on, and today, it’s a popular drinking holiday. That doesn’t mean it has to be, though. If Mardi Gras is one of your favorite holidays to celebrate, you can definitely do so without alcohol.

1. Eat all the things.

Don’t be fooled. There’s a lot of deliciousness going on during Mardi Gras and it has absolutely nothing to do with alcohol. Instead, you can indulge in all of the food things this time of year. Pancakes are a particularly popular item during the celebration, and of course, there are other yummy foods too. New Orleans is all about the sweet and the spicy, so you can celebrate by creating some Creole or Cajun-inspired dishes. There are a ton of options, from jambalaya to a host of shrimp dishes.

The other thing you can try is simply having all of your sober buddies over for a big, fat dinner on Tuesday. Make whatever you like and just indulge… maybe even call it a Thanksgiving, part two. After all, isn’t Mardi Gras all about indulgence anyway?

2. Learn about the land and cutlure.

If you’re exploring NOLA on Mardi Gras but don’t want to be caught in all of the hubbubs of the traditional celebrations, then why not do some exploring in Louisiana?  The area is lush and green nearly year-round, which means it’s flush with options for the nature lover. Rich in history and culture, New Orleans is a great place to learn as well.

This can include going out on a swamp tour, for which the New Orleans area is well-known. As a swampland, it’s likely you’ll come close to alligators and other swamp-style creatures, which can be quite the adventure. If history and culture are more your speed, there are tons of options to explore both.

3. Go to the daytime parade.

Of course, if you want, there are a lot of things you can do during Mardi Gras that does involve the usual revelry. There are plenty of balls and parades to choose from, and luckily, many of them are family-friendly! Those daytime parades made for all ages mean less pressure to drink and less drunkenness displayed overall.

If you love the parades and want to celebrate in this way, a daytime, family-friendly option may fill that need for you, however, it’s important to know where you are in your sober journey. Certain events, people, and places might be triggers in early sobriety.

4. Participate in a church event instead.

Since Mardi Gras is technically a response to Ash Wednesday, the Catholic Church may have something to say about whether or not those who observe Lent participate. Maybe you’ve participated in the past simply to have fun and get drunk, and maybe since you’re sober this year, Mardi Gras doesn’t hold the same meaning.

The beauty of living without alcohol is that we get to create new experiences for ourselves and we get to rewrite our stories. If you’re religious and want to observe the season in a new way, maybe you skip Mardi Gras altogether and instead find a new way to reignite your spirituality.

5. Enjoy time with loved ones.

At the end of the day, Mardi Gras is whatever you want to make of it. If you want to go to a parade or eat tons of food, that’s fine. There’s really no wrong or right answer here. One thing that might add more meaning to the day though, is spending it with people you love.

Whether you’re inviting your family over for a mid-week brunch or having your friends over for delicious mocktails, Fat Tuesday offers a great excuse to reconnect with the people in your life that you treasure. Sure, it may be cold outside right now but this wintertime activity is too fun to pass up.

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No matter what you decide to do on Mardi Gras or what part of the country you live in, remember that you can make this day as special or insignificant as you want. If you’re in New Orleans, then enjoy the day! But if you’re somewhere else in the country and want to just ignore it, that’s fine, too. Of course, if you’d rather have an excuse to skip work and have a million pancakes… Don’t worry, we won’t judge.

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