Mardi Gras 2015: 6 months out, New Orleans yearns for beads, bands, balls and brisk air

Mardi Gras 2015 arrives in six months -- and it can't come soon enough if you hate hurricane season in New Orleans. If you live elsewhere, consider buying a plane ticket: Millions will flock to the Crescent City for the holiday, which falls on Feb. 17, 2015.

Planning and building already has begun in New Orleans, as the city girds for a 43-day Carnival season in 2015.

As usual, the fun commences on Epiphany (Jan. 6) and will build for weeks, often behind the scenes, as krewes stage balls, maskers make costumes and bakers produce millions of king cakes.

You know the public madness, of course: the crowds and gaudy float parades; the stately live oaks decked with beads; the call of trumpets; the mayor surrendering the city to the misrule of Rex; the Mardi Gras Indians chanting; the glitter-drenched costumers and spontaneous foot parades that finally bring most commerce to a halt. For one glorious day, phones will ring in empty New Orleans offices while toasts are raised, while license is crowned, and our greatest civic holiday comes to a climax. And then, the party is over: Ash Wednesday (Feb. 18) brings Lenten vows for some and a citywide hangover for all -- even for those who never touch a drop.

To prepare guests -– and remind locals what it's all about -– we looked back through our calendars and past coverage, gathering photos, videos and reports from every corner of New Orleans. The result: a string of 43 daily meditations on the meaning of Mardi Gras, one for each day of the 2015 season. Some are useful for early planners, offering tips about events on specific dates. Others are strictly for daydreamers looking ahead to their favorite time of year.

Jan. 6: Mardi Gras means choices. Phunny Phorty Phellows or Joan of Arc parade? Both are good options for Twelfth Night.

Jan. 7: Mardi Gras brings youth. Even oldsters feel a little bit springier during Carnival, and every year brings a new crop of fresh-faced young ladies who will make their debuts. Here's the scoop on the 2015 debutantes. 

Jan. 8: Mardi Gras makes us thankful. Lots of thank-you notes get sent during the Carnival season, especially if you are the queen of Carnival.

Jan. 9: Mardi Gras is elegance. You need gloves for the ball? Our social columnist tells you where to find them

Jan. 10: Mardi Gras makes us decorate. New Orleans houses look different during the Carnival season.

Jan. 11: Mardi Gras means a new Zulu king. Some parading krewes keep their royalty a secret. Members of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club elect their ruler during an annual party on the neutral ground of North Broad Street.

Jan. 12: Mardi Gras means king cake. Bring one to the office. Serve one with Champagne -- or soda pop. In New Orleans, you can try a different baker's version on each day of the Carnival season. Here are the 58 king cakes we tasted in 2014.

Jan. 13: Mardi Gras means obsession. Check out these hard-core costumers who dedicate an entire room in their homes to playing dress up.

Jan. 14: Mardi Gras brings out the neighbors. Every corner of New Orleans has grand traditions at Mardi Gras – and a new generation of scholars is paying attention. Here's what we learned about Baby Doll maskers from a recent book and exhibition.

Jan. 15: Mardi Gras means joy. Some folks say that they hate Mardi Gras. They need to see the "Wobble Cop" video that went viral on the Internet in 2014.

Jan. 16: Mardi Gras means remembrance. Rent Spike Lee's Hurricane Katrina documentary, "When the Levees Broke," and see the footage from Fat Tuesday 2006.

Jan. 17: Mardi Gras means floats. Kids make them – and grown-ups do, too.

Jan. 18: Mardi Gras is confusing. If you live in New Orleans, you always have to explain Carnival to visitors. Here's a short course from one of our reporters.

Jan. 19: Mardi Gras is for sewing. Day off? Work on your costume. The Indians are busy with theirs.

Jan. 20: Mardi Gras is for nuptials. Expect things to be a little bit different if you plan a wedding for Fat Tuesday. Can't believe that anyone does it? Check out our video of a Mermaid and Merman tying the knot on a New Orleans street in 2014.

Jan. 21: Mardi Gras means house guests. Brace yourself: They are coming. Here are some tips for hosts and guests about surviving the season.

Jan. 22: Mardi Gras means New Orleans. Scratch the surface of Mardi Gras, and you'll find New Orleans mysteries. Here are three books to help you understand.

Jan. 23: Mardi Gras means lost friends. Raise a toast to those who won't be here in 2015. Mix their ashes with glitter. Then check out this video of costume designer Veronica Russell, who died in 2014 at age 44. She talks about the Krewe of 'tit Rex.

Jan. 24: Mardi Gras is courtly. All through the Carnival season, private balls and parties keep New Orleans residents busy. But the parties do end eventually -- and, boy, do they end in style. Here's a look back at the meeting of the courts of Rex and Comus in 2014.

Jan. 25: Mardi Gras is tasty. Try a French-style Galette des Rois. This cake is perfect with Champagne. This French Quarter bakery is a good place to get one.

Jan. 26: Mardi Gras means wigs. We dress differently during Carnival. Here's some advice on how to keep glued together when you're in the spotlight.

Jan. 27: Mardi Gras means marching bands. In 2014, the St. Augustine High School Purple Knights, also known as the "Marching 100," were voted the best band of Mardi Gras. Our video tells the full story.

Jan. 28: Mardi Gras means escape. Heading out of town for Mardi Gras is a New Orleans tradition. So is fishing. And so is a trip to the movies. We found a lot of options in 2014.

Jan. 29: Mardi Gras is a mystery. Carnival means more than pretty colors. Just ask the North Side Skull and Bones Gang.

Jan. 30: Mardi Gras means barricades. A New Orleans firm sets the world standard for the sturdy crowd control tools that make parades safer for everybody.

Jan. 31: Mardi Gras means satire. When Krewe de Vieux rolls, you know that the New Orleans parading season has begun in earnest.

Feb. 1: Mardi Gras means Bourbon Street. Ever wondered what it's like to live where the party never stops? It's even wilder during Carnival.

Feb. 2: Mardi Gras is for red beans. New Orleans cooks love to serve red beans on Monday, so a red bean parade is a natural. This group of downtown maskers usually rolls on the last Monday before Mardi Gras.

Feb. 3: Mardi Gras means fried chicken. If you're on a parade route, expect to see plenty of fried chicken: It shows up on fine china in the Garden District, in cardboard buckets out on Veterans Memorial Boulevard, and piled a foot deep on a covered pool table at one of our favorite Uptown bars.

Feb. 4: Mardi Gras means money. Expect a big fat credit card bill when Ash Wednesday arrives. Here's a graphic that shows how New Orleans burned through the bucks in the lead up to Fat Tuesday 2014.

Feb. 5: Mardi Gras is for happy endings. Ever lost a child at a parade? That's a nightmare scenario for most parents, but New Orleans has uniformed friends to assist all along the parade routes.

Feb. 6: Mardi Gras is for drinkers. You heard about drinking at Mardi Gras? Here are some tips from bartenders that will make your experience a happier one.

Feb. 7: Mardi Gras is for families. Family Gras drops an outdoor music festival onto the Veterans Memorial Boulevard parade route in Metairie. In recent years, this free, family-friendly gathering has drawn about 100,000 visitors over three days.

Feb. 8: Mardi Gras is excessive. Even king cakes go "over the top" during Carnival. Check out our review of Domenica's Salted Caramel and Banana King Cake from 2014.

Feb. 9: Mardi Gras means beads in trees. Who gets all those strands out of the live oaks -- and why do they bother?

Feb. 10: Mardi Gras means weather worries. Will it rain? Decorate an umbrella – good for sunshine, too – and consult the historic record.

Feb. 11: Mardi Gras means throws. Want more beads and baubles? Ask the experts.

Feb. 12: Mardi Gras means shoes. Yes, you'll be doing a lot of walking, since traffic and parking often is difficult along the parade routes. But catching shoes also is a part of the season, as the Krewe of Muses tosses gem-encrusted footwear during their annual night parade.

Feb. 13: Mardi Gras is for sinners. Yes, we're relaxed in New Orleans. But don't break the "Seven Deadly Sins of Mardi Gras."

Feb. 14: Mardi Gras is for lovers. Take your Valentine to the 2015 Endymion parade -- if both of you like a supergigantic extravaganza that draws about a million spectators. Fans of more cozy approaches are in luck this year: Hard to snag restaurant reservations should be easy to get for this Valentine's Day. Here's a link to our restaurant guide. (Just make sure you don't need to cross the parade route.)

Feb. 15: Mardi Gras is policed. New Orleans serves up the world's largest party with some of the world's craziest parades and people. The New Orleans Police Department knows how to deal with it.

Feb. 16: Mardi Gras follows Lundi Gras. It's just a Monday everywhere else, but New Orleans calls it Lundi Gras: a day to attend a riverfront festival, watch a parade, and see the mayor surrender the city to Rex. For some, it's the perfect day for an impromptu dance circle in the French Quarter.

Feb 17: Mardi Gras is a day for snapshots. Don't forget your camera. We took lots of pictures in 2014. Here are some of the best from a day that proved cold, soggy and totally perfect.