Leesburg’s Mardi Gras is 20!


It has been 20 years of parties, parades, and purple as Leesburg marks this significant celebration of Mardi Gras. Leesburg’s family friendly event is a month fun and events leading up to “12 Hours of Madness” at the party in the street! 

Story: Debbi Kiddy

Joe Shipes, executive director of Leesburg Partnership says, “With this being our 20-year anniversary, you can bet we will pull out all the stops!”

Everything began Jan. 12 when candidates for King Rex and Queen Divine were introduced. Candidates win votes with contributions. Each candidate has their own page on the Mardi Gras website, and finds their own creative ways to get the people of their realm to vote for them.

Four parties prior to the Mardi Gras Parade allow candidates to earn votes for points from supporters and raise money to fund various events in Leesburg for the rest of the year. The Kick Off Party was at Sip Restaurant on Jan. 12, and the candidates were announced and made their pitch for votes.

Last year’s events included Leesburg’s Got Talent, Kamikaze Karaoke and Bowling, the Reverse Draw, and culminated with The Crowning Ball! The ball is a formal event with dancing, great food, and the crowning of King Rex and Queen Divine.

For revelers such as Joyce Huey, the Leesburg Mardi Gras represents a day full of fun, food, and fellowship. That’s why she attends the event each year. In fact, she was crowned Queen Divine in 2011 after raising $22,347.50 for the Leesburg Partnership.

The 20th annual Leesburg Mardi Gras has events going from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. featuring jugglers, stilt walkers, face painting, bead throwing, balloons, music, food and more madness! Happenings during the day include the Kids Parade (11 a.m.) and the Pet Parade (2 p.m.). Nighttime lights ablaze in the Main Street Parade (7 p.m.) with Mardi Gras King Rex and Queen Divine presiding over floats, beads, masks, and Zulu coconuts.

“It’s so much fun to see Main Street filled with marching jazz bands, stilt walkers, jugglers, and fire eaters,” says Joyce, owner of Two Old Hags Wine Shoppe in downtown Leesburg. “I also love the parade because everybody is so excited to get the beads and candy that are being thrown by the parade participants. It’s also great that so many people come to the downtown area and see what we have going on here. As a business owner, I think that’s very important.”

The meaning behind three
popular Mardi Gras traditions:

Throwing colored beads

The tradition of throwing colored beads from those riding floats in the parade starts with their original colors. The color of the beads was determined by the king of the first daytime carnival in 1872. He wanted the colors to be royal colors—purple for justice, gold for power and green for faith. The idea was to toss the color to the person who exhibited the color’s meaning.

The Mask

Hundreds of years ago, the mask was a way for Mardi Gras partygoers to mingle with people of all social classes and be whoever they wanted to be—at least for a few hours. Today, float riders in New Orleans are required by law to wear masks.

Zulu Coconuts

Since we do have coconuts in Lake County, you may want to incorporate this last Mardi Gras tradition of handing out Zulu coconuts. As early as 1910, the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, one of the oldest black krewes (parade hosts), handed out coconuts. The first coconuts were left in their natural hairy state, but later, members began painting and decorating them. Receiving a Zulu coconut is one of the most sought-after traditions during Mardi Gras.