This year was the first year that I experienced Mardi Gras. Obviously, not being from the same region of the country I really had no idea what it was going to be like. My friends were so excited to be there with me to experience it, and they were even willing to drive me down to New Orleans to let me experience Fat Tuesday the only way imagable.

Now here is a history lesson for anyone who doesn't know what Mardi Gras is.

Mardi Gras originated from religious leaders that decided to include these popular local traditions into the new faith, an easier job than getting rid of them altogether. As a result, the excess and debauchery of the Mardi Gras season became a prelude to Lent, the 40 days of fasting between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Mardi Gras spread from Rome to other European countries, including France, which is a huge influence culturally in Louisiana. Mardi is the French word for Tuesday, and gras means "fat." In France, the day before Ash Wednesday came to be known as feasting the last day before the fast. Traditionally, in the days leading up, merrymakers would eat all day on the rich, fatty foods, in anticipation of several weeks of eating only fish and other various foods.

Now the traditional meaning of Mardi Gras has changed to parades, binge drinking, and partying. It has been more of an excuse to party than to actually celebrate the holiday for its intended purpose. It also doesn't hurt that students get a much-needed break, schools generally give either a five-day weekend or the entire school week off.

I was expecting to go to into the heart of the city to be overwhelmed with drunkness and paranoia of checking to make sure that everything has not been stolen off me. However, I got so much more out of it.

I went to the Zulu parade and met locals as well as tourist from California. The locals have always come to this parade since they were little and it has been a tradition to go with other family and friends. Generally, the day parades are more family friendly, but they closer to sunset it gets the wilder the parades tend to be. The tourists have always wanted to come and to have the Mardi Gras experience, and they finally saved up the money to do so. As a first timer, I was already so ecstatic to be in the atmosphere but all the krewes, bands, and other performers really made the parades a lot of fun to watch.

I highly suggest going to at least one Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans at least once in your life because you truly won't be able to understand the holiday until you go down and experience it yourself.

Mardi Gras does not mean getting drunk, wearing costumes/mask, and partying. It means getting together to celebrate traditions as well as celebrate the community you surround yourself with every day. Even if that means drinking and partying with them.

I cannot wait to celebrate Mardi Gras next year.