MARDI GRAS 2012: Wild Pictures From The Biggest Free Party In The Country

Mardi Gras

Photo: AP Photo

Beads, feathers, elaborate costumes, and dancing flood the streets of New Orleans in what marks the culmination of weeks of Carnival celebrations before the start of Lent.  Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, dates back to the early 18th century and generates up to $500 million in revenue for the city, according to some estimates. 

The massive party brings in hundreds of thousands of visitors each year who flock to the French Quarter to gawk at larger-than-life floats, guzzle fruity drinks, and let loose before the period of fasting and repentance.  

Excited girls yell from a balcony as the parade sweeps through the street.

A member of the Krewe du Vieux parades through the streets.

Notoriously over-the-top singer Cyndi Lauper heads to her float in the Orpheus Parade.

A bright, multi-coloured float in the Krewe of Proteus Parade.

This three-section float carries members from the New Orleans hospitality industry.

Look! It's Krewe of Orpheus co-founder and New Orleans-native Harry Connick Jr. preparing to board his float.

An elaborately-dressed woman throws beads from a Bourbon St. balcony.

Actress Mariska Hargitay and two-time Oscar-winner Hillary Swan hang out with excited party-goers.

Actress Patricia Clarkson presided over the all-women Mardi Gras Krewe of Muses parade.

Here she is again riding a hot pink shoe.

Members of the Krewe of Jezebelles parade strike a pose.

Rain doesn't hamper the spirits of a Maroon 5 member who throws beads into the masses.

Lots of enthusiasm!

A member of the Krewe du Vieux kisses a friend.

A member of the Krewe du Vieux parades dances through the streets with a satirical sign.

A Flambeau carrier marches down the clogged streets.

Posing in front of St. Louis Cathedral.

Another giant party is headed our way

NOW WATCH: Executive Life videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.