Revelers in glitzy costumes filled the streets of New Orleans on Tuesday for the annual Mardi Gras bash, opening a day of partying, parades and good-natured jostling for beads and trinkets tossed from passing floats.
A retired musician, clarinetist Pete Fountain, rode a mini float decked out as a trolley ahead of a march by his group, the Half-Fast Walking Club, to kick off a day of parades on what is known as "Fat Tuesday."
The Rev. Byron Miller started Fountain's group on its way with a prayer, invoking "the God of laughter and love" as marchers set out on a long trek after early morning rain cleared out, leaving many buttoning up amid chilly weather.
Many revelers dressed up for the occasion. Friends Alexandra Sergutin and Ashley Dornier of New Orleans said donning elegant gowns for the Carnival balls is one of their favorite Mardi Gras activities.
"It feels good to be a part of that tradition. It really does. It touches your heart," said Sergutin, draped in colorful beads. "You're a part of something amazing and big."
Celebrations also were scheduled throughout south Louisiana and in coastal Mississippi and Alabama, sharing the traditions brought by French Catholic colonists in the 18th century. In Louisiana's swampy bayou parishes, costumed riders on horseback go from farm to farm, collecting ingredients for a huge community gumbo.
The parades wind down late Tuesday afternoon and outdoor celebrations cease at midnight, when the solemn Catholic season of Lent begins. New Orleans police ride horseback down the French Quarter's main tourist road, Bourbon Street, to clear the last tipsy revelers as the party ends for another year.