Balls might not be the first thing you think of when you think of Mardi Gras, but they are an important part of the local traditions of New Orleans. These "krewes" that put together the parade floats also put on large, invitation-only balls. These balls are important events in society, and usually are the events of the year!
Each krewe has a King and Queen. All year the identity of these royals is kept a secret. The King and Queen are revealed on Mardi Gras night at the ball of their krewe. Debutantes also "come out" at the Ball Tableau. Coming out is a way of introducing a young lady into polite society, and while it is old fashioned it is still an important way for prominent families to "introduce" their daughters to the social world.
In fact, children's participation in this society world starts even earlier than a debutant's coming out. Introduction into the world of the krewe balls begins when a child is chosen to be a page in the court. Women dress in formal ball gowns. They hope to receive a "call-out" card, which is an invitation to dance from a krewe member. These balls also serve elaborate feasts. Many prominent people attend these balls, from politicians to celebrities and those who are more locally renown.
Attendance at the older, more aristocratic based balls is always by invitation only. However, it is not common to receive an invitation, so even Governors or prominent politicians do not get upset if they are not invited! Historically, the invitations to these balls were die-cut and then printed in Paris, France. Even know these invitations are beautiful, intricate works of art, and many keep them and display them in their homes as such.
“Super Krewe” Balls
Krewes are the large groups that spend all year putting together the parade floats, planning their balls and selecting various "royalty" for the festivities. The Mardi Gras parade is followed by a ball for several of these very large, "Super Krewes." Bacchus, Orpheus, and Endymion are the three “super krewes" that put on these extravagant balls, and these three krewes are known to put on the best balls!
The Bacchus Krewe, named after the Greek God Bacchus who ruled wine and plants, is the oldest krewe. Started by Edward Brennan Sr. in 1942 these super krewes were the first Mardi Gras balls that allowed tourists or those from outside of New Orleans into the balls. This oldest krewe is widely considered to throw the best Mardi Gras ball of all!
The Krewe of Endymion holds their post-parade ball in the Superdome! Tens of thousands of people are in attendance, and the entertainment is chocked full of world-famous entertainers.
The Krewe of Orpheus holds a black-tie ball at the New Orleans Convention Center after the parade. The Krewe of Orpheus was the first krewe, super or otherwise, to host a ball that included both men and women in the invitations. The so-called Lundi Gras is famous for having some of the best entertainment superstars in the world booked for their ball!
These balls are one of the best ways to get a taste of the real New Orleans Mardi Gras. Formal dress, extravagant parade floats, delectable food and out of this world entertainment will make for a night that you will never forget!