There's a whole lot to be said for being first, and Mobile takes great pride in hosting the oldest Mardi Gras celebration in the United States.
Started in 1703 when Mobile was the capital of what was then French Louisiana, Mobile's Mardi Gras season starts with mystic society parties in November, continues through those societies' New Year's Eve balls and reaches its peak with a parade each day for roughly two weeks heading into Mardi Gras.
Yes, the krewes at those parades toss beads, but they also throw doubloons, candy, toys, cups, flying discs and Moon Pies into the crowd as they wind their way through Mobile. They don't go taking a year off, either. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Mobile went ahead and hosted nearly a million people for the biggest Mardi Gras in its history in 2006. The crowd has hovered around 900,000 since and has struck a balance between the family fun of children trying to find the small plastic king in a King Cake and the raucous revelry of boozy masquerade balls.
There's a lot of overlap in this history of Mobile's Mardi Gras and New Orleans' big event, but the Big Easy still doesn't have the Sunday parades and parties of Joe Cain Day -- named for the man who prodded Mobile back into the party mood by restarting the Mardi Gras celebrations in 1867 after a Civil War hiatus -- the Moon Pies or the understated appeal of mobile's big moment. Mobile's Mardi Gras is more about the city's pride than the nation's party planning and the krewes seem content to keep it that way.