Throwing beads

Text (ritual/folk belief)

“Throwing and collecting beads is a traditional practice and brings good luck.”


My informant has lived in Louisiana for 4 years and participated in the Mardi Gras festival twice where this practice occurs collecting many beads to wear around her neck in participation of the celebration.

Q: “What is the significance of beads at Mardi Gras parades?”

A: “The practice of throwing beads on Mardi Gras stems from 19th-century French customs where the king would throw jewels and gold to the ‘common people’”.

Q: “How do you get beads?”

A: “The people on floats are above you at the parade and you can reach your hands out or jump and wave to insinuate for them to throw beads down, or people also commonly will flash their boobs to get beads. I didn’t do that though haha. There used to be a legend that University of Lafayette students wore beads to stand out during Mardi Gras and the custom spread to now where beads are commonly worn and exchanged at the festival”


Originating in the 19th century, bead throwing is a traditional ritual/practice taking place where those of higher status or class would assert their position originally throwing any small trinkets to spectators of the parade. The evolution to throwing beads began in the 20th century as people of higher status would begin to dress up themselves and their floats in beads colored in line with the Mardi Gras theme as a symbol of creativity and expression. Today these beads are representative of the Mardi Gras season expressing appreciation for and participation in New Orleans cultural practices asserting a shared cultural identity. The traditional custom of wearing brightly colored beads and the ritual of exchanging or throwing said beads act as a way to show participation and involvement in the festivities as well as a symbol of good luck. Frazer explores the concept of homeopathic magic and the idea that like produces like. Many people partake in bead-throwing rituals in hopes of receiving good luck for the coming year partaking in this homeopathic ritual. His work provides a framework for analyzing the role and significance of rituals, symbols, and practices in various cultures. Recently, however, there has been some controversy regarding the environmental friendliness of throwing around thousands of plastic beads. Many people have called for more sustainable alternatives to this practice which is an integral part of Mardi Gras culture. This conversation touches on the adaptation and transformation of folklore over time to be more accommodating to 21st-century ideals and the evolution of folklore practices to fit the modern standards of societal and cultural norms in the United States.