Mardi Gras is one of the lesser known, but truly exciting holidays that is celebrated in the United States. Every year, Mardi Gras takes place in the bustling historic city of New Orleans, Louisiana. It’s an exciting backdrop and theme to utilize for hosting truly unique events, no matter the industry.
“Mardi Gras” is French for “Fat Tuesday,” and it has its origins in medieval Europe. Traditionally, Mardi Gras was no more than a celebratory feasting period before the start of lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday and continues through Easter. However, much has changed with the celebration of Mardi Gras since its humble medieval beginnings.
The story goes that the French-Canadian explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyene Sieur de Bienville arrived south of what is current day New Orleans on March 2, 1699. It just so happened that this date was also Mardi Gras, so in honor of the happy coincidence, Jean Baptiste and his men named the land “Pointe Du Mardi Gras.”
As the years went on, the region adopted more and more Mardi Gras traditions. Finally, in 1875, Governor Warmoth signed the “Mardi Gras Act”, which made Mardi Gras a legal Louisiana holiday. It remains so today.
When we think of Mardi Gras, we tend to think of parades, purple, green, and yellow beads, king cakes, jazz musicians, brightly colored masks, Bourbon street, and all-night parties. Certainly, this isn’t something that could be turned into a professional-level event, right?
Well, we did it.
And it was one of the most memorable events we ever did.
Several years ago, I was in charge of the UnitedHealthcare Platinum Sponsorship for the AARP Life@50+ Member Event in New Orleans. We always hosted a staff dinner following our training meeting the day before the launch of the event. It was a thank you to the staff who were going to be working three long days, but also an opportunity for team bonding and camaraderie. For this particular trade show, there were 130 staff members, including 30 senior level executives, all the way up to our CEO. So, this dinner was going to be an event in and of itself!
In planning this particular portion of an already grand scale trade show, I had a choice. I could simply hire a transportation company to drive us to an average restaurant for a typical run of the mill dinner. Now, if that was our only option, my team and I would have made it very professional and that would have been fine.
But this was New Orleans. So instead…
I planned a traditional New Orleans style parade for everyone to walk to a Mardi Gras themed party. This was an experience that delivered!
To begin with, the police blocked off the streets for us. That left our parade of staff members free to walk, complete with a jazz band leading the procession, to the famous and unforgettable Latrobe’s On Royal restaurant.
Now, Latrobe’s On Royal is one of the most significant buildings in all of New Orleans. Located directly in the heart of the French quarter, Latrobe’s On Royal was originally built to house the Louisiana State Bank back in 1822. Even though much of it has modernized over the years, it has lost none of its original character and design. The foyer at the entrance actually used to be where they parked the carriages with horses. How cool!
Once we arrived, guests spent the evening enjoying king cake and red beans and rice under high vaulted historic brick ceilings and arches that made for perfect acoustics. Gas lamps dimly lit the walls and the tables were all decked out in Mardi Gras beads, feather boas, and masks.
In the corner, a painter was painting a live scene of the event. And in another corner, a Tarot card reader was predicting fortunes. For fun, Voodoo dolls were made specially for this event.
The restaurant served us endless helpings of crawfish boil, shrimp and grits, jambalaya, fried okra, frozen milk punch, and beignets. Musicians were playing New Orleans style jazz while we enjoyed the restaurant’s hand painted murals.
Everything about the evening was magical, and went far beyond simply a run-of-the-mill staff reception dinner.
In fact, one of the attendees at the event said to me afterwards that even though this was never a bucket list item for her, it became one after experiencing it. She said that she added – and checked off – “Mardi Gras parade and party” on her bucket list that day.
Talk about a unique event!
New Orleans has so much to offer that can be incorporated into a professional event. It is full of beautiful, historic homes and famous above ground cemeteries. Of course, Mardi Gras is a key event in New Orleans, as well as the French Quarter and Jazz Festivals. There are so many great ways to celebrate this fascinating and beautiful city!
Do you want to host a themed event in your city? Contact us today to get the party started!