Mardi Gras 2016 is Tuesday, February 9th
Mardi Gras Galveston
Carnival On the Texas Gulf Coast
Seagulls pick the beach clean. Rushing to stay ahead of the tide, they are blissfully unaware that the breeze carrying over the Galveston Seawall masks preparations for one of record-setting Mardi Gras Galveston’s annual parades. In this town that seems equal parts, Charleston, Savannah, The Big Easy, and Texas, Mardi Gras is a combination of family-friendly parades out along the Seawall, and boisterous, but still family appropriate, nighttime events in the Downtown Entertainment District.
The History of Mardi Gras Galveston
Galveston’s first Mardi Gras celebration took place in 1867, and included a masked ball, and a play. Four years later, the first two krewes, the Knights of Momus and the Knights of Myth, would host masked balls and nighttime parades in Galveston’s first “large scale” Mardi Gras celebration.
Over the next hundred years or so there would be a number of lavish Carnival celebrations. But, through a depression, and two world wars, Mardi Gras was by turns scaled back, celebrated in private, and often suspended altogether.
Then, in the 1980s, local businessman George P. Mitchell and his wife Cynthia championed a community effort to rejuvenate Galveston. And in 1985, 75,000 spectators watched a mile-long nighttime Mardi Gras parade that included just nine floats. Happily, Mardi Gras Galveston has grown every year since. Today, numerous krewes entertain well over a hundred thousand spectators at multiple parades over the better part of a week. And in 2011 they set a world record for umbrella dancing.
Imagine getting together with well over a thousand of your closest friends in the streets of Galveston, all dressed up in your craziest Mardi Gras finery, umbrella in hand. Suddenly the music starts, and all of you break into a rousing version of the Hokey Pokey. For members of the Funky Uptown Umbrella Brigade that’s the highlight of the season. In fact it's such a big part of Mardi Gras Galveston that in 2011 they set the official Guinness Book of World Records title for the largest umbrella dance (with 1,461 dancers).
Fortunately, membership in the group seems to require only a wild costume, an umbrella, and a fun attitude. So if you plan to be in Galveston for Mardi Gras, bring your umbrella, and your dancing shoes, and join the Funky Uptown Umbrella Brigade.
A Day At The Beach
Over the sound of crashing surf, a siren wails, signaling the start of the festivities. Hundreds of spectators crowd the barricades along Galveston’s Seawall Boulevard, craning their necks for a view of the first float. The front row is all expectant children. Then, a small wagon pulled by a Labrador retriever turns the corner. The crowd erupts. The wagon is full of beads, which the owner liberally flings into the crowd.
That’s the start of the Mardi Gras Galveston Pet Parade. This no-holds-barred celebration of our loyalcompanions is not reserved just for dogs. There are lizards, snakes, ferrets, cats, and more. Most of the critters are decked out in green, gold, and purple, matching their owners’ costumes (or vice versa).
Because everyone likes animals, and most folks have come with their kids, this is a decidedly family-oriented parade. But it’s also a great warm up for other Mardi Gras events. For the sake of the children and the animals, the bead mania and party antics are generally kept down to a dull roar. Nobody wants to be a bad influence at this parade.
Shortly after (or just before) the pet parade, the Seawall Parade Route is also the site of a massive children’s parade. Here again, the emphasis is on having a sensible good time. Children’s groups and other community organizations sponsor floats with kid-friendly themes, and work to raise donations for children’s charities, etc. Local police fire, and military organizations turn out in their polished fire trucks, police cruisers, and military trucks/transports for the young ones to ogle, climb on, and dream about.
This, again, is a fairly low stress parade, and, as such, is a great place to catch beads without getting elbowed. But the best part is the look on a child’s face when you hand them your hard-won bead stash.
Downtown, throughout Galveston’s lively Arts & Entertainment District, Carnival nights are dedicated to Galveston’s biggest and most lavish Mardi Gras parades. Krewes pull out all the stops, flinging tens of thousands of beads. At times, crowds can be on the edge of too much. But in recent years, ticketed entry and centralized management have added a measure of civility to Mardi Gras Galveston’s downtown parades.
Locals often arrive early (with lawn chairs and coolers) to stake out the best spots, so you’re advised to show up early to secure your place. It’s a good time. And if you come well stocked with food and drink, you are sure to make friends along the route. Look forward to lively discussions about which krewes have the best float, and which the best throws. NOTE: The area along Post Office Street,just outside the Gumbo Shop is a good viewing spot for most downtown parades.
Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly vacation, a wild, let your hair down party, a chance to be part of a world record, or you simply love island life, Mardi Gras Galveston rolls out the red carpet every year. And you’ll get to share that experience with folks who live a comfortable, laid back, island existence.
Sources (and External Links)
The author/editor is indebted to others for the content in this article. While the final product on this page is ours, and we claim full ownership and responsibility for same, what you read here is based on our research, which led us to the following sources of information:
Galveston Feature Stories
Galveston: Art & Architecture - Tree Sculptures, Artist Boat, and Bishop's Palace
Galveston's Dining Delights - Dining Culture & Local Favorites in Gulf Coast Texas
Galveston History - The People and Events That Made Galveston Famous