“Be aggressive,” she schooled me. “People will run you over to get those beads.” My friend Amy was prepping me for my first foray into Mardi Gras in Mississippi. Yes, that’s right: Not New Orleans. Not Mobile, Alabama, where the first Mardi Gras was held, I’d learn. But along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, where the Fat Tuesday celebrations predate the big ones in New Orleans, they’ll tell you proudly.

“N’awlins just makes more noise about theirs,” Debbie Raymond, a native Mississippian, told me. “Here we start celebrating on Epiphany, Jan. 6, and continue through to Fat Tuesday. Every community has its own parade.”