For many, Mardi Gras 2012 in New Orleans means one thing: the throwing of the beads.
Traditionally, the most-prized necklaces thrown (and caught) come in purple, green and gold, the Mardi Gras colors. Purple traditionally represents justice, while green represents faith and gold represents power. Catching them from balconies or floats is supposed to bring good fortune to visitors, while bringing bad luck to any who try and filch one from the ground.
But what about the other items tossed out of floats and thrown from balconies during Mardi Gras celebrations? From moon pies in Mobile, Ala., to painted coconuts in New Orleans, La., here are five things besides colored beads that revelers give out on Fat Tuesday.
1. Throw Cups
The first plastic souvenir Mardi Gras cups were thrown in 1980 by the Krewe of Alla, La., and off of some floats in Bacchus, Rhea and Argus. One year later, Giacona Container Company Corp. had trademarked the name Mardi Gras Throw Cup, and tossing the souvenirs was on its way to becoming a tradition.
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Over the years, Giacona has created glow-in-the-dark cups, plastic replicas of beer schooners and English yard glasses, and biodegradable cups that break down in landfills. Many of the cups features elaborate artwork, including a version featuring painters whose brushes were stored in throw cups.
Today, people tend to collect throw cups in bulk, using them for all kinds of occasions. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports a mortuary in Bayou Lafourche ordering throw cups, and visitors collecting them each year as a remnant of our walking-around-drinking culture.
2. Moon Pies
In Mobile, Ala., Cracker Jack boxes were once the norm for the Maids of Mirth to throw from floats during the annual Mardi Gras parade. Concerns over the boxes' sharp corners led to them being banned by the 1950s, however, and local residents were desperate to find a replacement.
Enter Chattanooga Bakery, inventor of the Moon Pies. The chocolate-coated marshmallow treats replaced Cracker Jack boxes in 1956, and the tradition spread to other communities along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, with some opting for the smaller bite size Moon Pies for easier throwing.
Today, the town of Oneonta, Ala. also offers a Moon Pie eating contest started by Wal-Mart employee John Love, who ordered too many one year and forced to come up with a creative solution to fixing it, an anecdote featured in the book Made in America.
Doubloons predate Mardi Gras celebrations as the first coins minted in America, stretching as far back as the early 1700s.
But the doubloons given out during parades only hark back to 1960, when Rex H. Alvin Sharpe created the first fake coins to throw each year. These doubloons had the krewe's name, emblem and founding date on one side and the current year and theme of the parade on the other. Now every krewe gives out their own doubloons, and many New Orleans residents and visitors end up trampling each other trying to get one.
4. Painted Coconuts
It sounds like a recipe for a concussion, but the coconuts throw by The Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club, also known as Golden Nuggets, have been a part of New Orleans Mardi Gras celebrations since the turn of the twentieth century. They remain the most sought-after item in any parade.
Originally, the coconuts were tossed in their natural state from floats around the city, providing a cheap alternative to glass beads. By 1988, however, the city of New Orleans had banned throwing them into crowds, and the heavy fruits are now handed out to the crowds, usually drained and decked out in gold or black and white paint.
Out in Cajun country, Mardi Gras celebrations are a little different. For the Mardi Gras run, it's not doubloons or beads that get thrown. It's chickens.
In the early hours of Fat Tuesday, 2012, thousands will gather in the center of Eunice, La. are wait for a live chicken to be thrown into the field for participants on foot (and some on horseback) to chase, with a beer truck often flanking the run.
The tradition, which also includes elaborate costuming and concealed indentities, comes from the medieval French Carnival when the lines between rich and poor were blurred and social niceties despensed with.