One former Louisiana resident collected so many Mardi Gras ball gowns that they nearly need a closet of their own.
Another remembers colorful, sweet king cakes served in the days leading up to the celebration.
And yet another misses the outfits revelers wear, especially the elaborate masks.
They’re among a number of Omaha-area expatriates from the land of lagniappe, and all enjoyed celebrating Mardi Gras when they lived down South. Now they find different ways to mark Fat Tuesday, the most Louisiana of holidays. It’s always the last Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, and this year, that’s next week, Feb. 9.
“While living (in Louisiana), we discovered that Mardi Gras is second only to Christmas when it comes to celebrations,” said Lucy Gillespie, an Omaha native who lived in Lafayette, Louisiana — right in the middle of Cajun country — and New Orleans between 2008 and 2013.
Though it’s not as wild as Bourbon Street, Omaha knows how to laissez les bons temps rouler (that’s “let the good times roll” to us, otherwise known as the Louisiana call to action).
Several bars and restaurants have Mardi Gras parties — think seafood, gumbo, jambalaya and some potent drinks — and you can find traditional king cakes at various locations, including Whole Foods grocery and some Hy-Vees. The only things missing are parades and costume balls, though you can get green, yellow and purple beads at local novelty shops such as Nobbies.
Linda Emert of Council Bluffs said she misses the family camaraderie that surrounds some Mardi Gras parades in Shreveport, her hometown.
“I love going — I love getting the beads,” she said, referring to the trinkets people on floats throw to the crowds. “My mom loved them, too.”
Mardi Gras isn’t just a New Orleans blast — it’s celebrated across the state in cities and rural areas and up and down the Gulf Coast in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. The holiday tends to be more family-oriented outside of New Orleans, especially in rural areas.
Emert, 58, said she celebrated Fat Tuesday with relatives at cookouts as well as parades.
Here, she has celebrated the holiday in clubs, but it’s not the big deal it is back home, so she tries to visit family during Mardi Gras every few years.
Jaime Bordelon Briganti, who was born in Shreveport and grew up in Mandeville and Sulphur, moved to Omaha in 2011 after she married a local man. She’s used to elaborate parades and parties in both Louisiana and Pensacola, Florida, where she lived for 20 years.
In Pensacola, she said, they have several krewes, the social clubs that stage Mardi Gras events, and she was involved in building floats and planning dances. Now she makes it a point to find seafood or a Cajun-style dinner on Fat Tuesday at an Omaha restaurant such as Jazz, Shucks or Mouth of the South. This year, the Brigantis plan to partake in the special Mardi Gras menu at Upstream Brewing Company.
She also buys Louisiana’s famous Abita beer at a local outlet (you can find it at many Hy-Vees). Abita creates a seasonal beer for Mardi Gras, just like local microbreweries mark fall and winter.
Briganti, 34, wants to do more, however. She says she’d love to reuse her gowns at an Omaha Mardi Gras ball.
“I’m dying to wear them here,” she said.
In the next couple of years, she hopes to pair with a local nonprofit to plan such an event with proceeds going to charity.
Both Briganti and Gillespie also keep the king cake tradition alive. Briganti, who works at Lutz Accounting, said no one in her office had ever heard of king cakes when she brought one for several co-workers. The cakes, named for Biblical kings, are served from Epiphany through Mardi Gras at parties and Carnival gatherings. A small plastic baby is baked inside, and whoever finds it has to buy the next cake.
“I kept saying, ‘Be careful, there’s a baby in it,’ ” she said. “And they would say, ‘What do you mean there’s a baby in it?’ ”
The next year, Briganti provided king cake for the entire business, and it’s now a tradition. She orders the cakes from Manny Randazzo King Cakes in Metairie, a New Orleans suburb.
Gillespie recently learned that Le Petit Paris, an Omaha French bakery at 156th Street and West Dodge Road, makes a king cake. She plans to order one.
Gillespie doesn’t venture out in Omaha on Mardi Gras. Instead, she will watch a New Orleans television station’s live stream of various parades and other revelry.
“As I’m watching, I’ll be wishing I were there,” she said.
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Jazz After 5 Mardi Gras Celebration
Love’s Jazz and Arts Center, 2510 N. 24th St.
Doors at 5 p.m., music at 7 p.m.
$10 general admission, $5 members
Live music from the Midwest GrooveStars and New Orleans-style cuisine.
Fat Saturday Specials
Nebraska Brewing Company, 7474 Towne Center Parkway, Suite 101, Papillion
Crawfish, shrimp boil, andouille sausage and hurricanes.
Mardi Gras Pageant
The Max Omaha, 1417 Jackson St.
Doors at 6 p.m., pageant at 7 p.m.
Come crown the king and queen of Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras Party
Hounds Lounge, 162 W. Broadway,
Carnivale masquerade ball.
Mardi Gras Madness
Soho Lounge and Sports Bar, 12143 West Center Road, #38
Most beads collected wins $100. There’s also free food, cake, beads and shots.
Mardi Gras specials
Mouth of the South, 8505 N. 30th St.
The restaurant will serve crawfish étouffée and shrimp and grits specials in addition to $6 hurricanes. Owner Ryan Ernst said he’ll provide Mardi Gras masks for patrons and will play recorded zydeco music since his venue is too small for a band.
Alderman’s Bar, 3216 Leavenworth St.
Specials including $4 hurricanes, $3 Fireballs and more, plus free beads.
Fat Tuesday at Jazz
Jazz — A Louisiana Kitchen, 1421 Farnam St.
Live music at noon and 7 p.m., with $5 hurricanes, $3.50 Abita beer and food specials.
Mardi Gras 2016
Crescent Moon Alehouse, 3578 Farnam St.
4 p.m., $5 cover starts at 5 p.m.
Cajun food, hurricanes
($5 a pint or $8 for a 32-ounce bucket) and Abita Mardi Gras Bock on tap.
Flixx Lounge & Cabaret Show, 1015 and 1019 S. 10th St.
Drink specials, door prizes, beads and jambalaya.
Mardi Gras Casino Royale
Rococo Theatre, 140 N. 13th St., Lincoln
Live music by the Peter Bouffard Jazz Quintet, gaming tables, silent auction and more. $75 admission benefits the Heartland Cancer Foundation.
Mardi Gras Celebration
Jake’s Cigars and Spirits,
6206 Maple St.
Enjoy hurricanes, king cake and decorations.
Fourth annual Fat Tuesday
711 N. 114th St.
Costume contest, music from
DJ Shif-D, free beads, prizes. $2.25 pints of domestic beers, $12 Yard Glass hurricanes, $5 hurricane pints.
Mardi Gras Dr. Jack’s Drinkery,
3012 N. 102nd St.
Watermelon shot specials, king cake and beads.
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About Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras starts with Epiphany and lasts through Fat Tuesday, the final day of revelry before Ash Wednesday, when people traditionally buckle down for Lent. A few other facts about the celebration:
Its origins are traced to medieval Europe.
It was celebrated in New Orleans with elegant society balls as early as the 1740s.
The first carnival planning groups, known as krewes, organized in the 1830s, and the first parade was in 1856. The first recorded instance of throwing items off floats was in 1870.
The official colors of Mardi Gras are purple (standing for justice), green (faith) and gold (power). When it came time for Louisiana State University to adopt colors, it turned to purple and gold.
Now, the traditional parade cry: “Throw me somethin’, mister,” earns you shiny beads and other trinkets in those hues.
There is no main group in charge of Mardi Gras and no overall theme each year. Individual krewes choose themes for their parades. Three of the largest krewes — Orpheus, Bacchus and Endymion — have the biggest and most intricate and extravagant floats.
Some krewes are known for their schticks, such as the Krewe of Barkus, which stages a dog parade, and the Krewe of Bosom Buddies, who dress in tutus and bras. One lucky person at the BB parade catches the prize float throw, a hand-decorated bra.
Others have celebrity honorees: Bob Hope, Charlton Heston and William Shatner are among the many selected as King of Bacchus, and the Krewe of Endymion counts Dolly Parton, Roy Orbison and Dan Aykroyd among its many guests.
The Krewe of Rex, founded in 1872, has had more parades than any other organization.