Image: Mobile Mardi Gras
G.M. ANDREWS  /  AP file
In this file photo, a masker tosses beads to the crowds as the Mobile Married Mystics take to the streets near Bienville Square in Mobile, Ala.
By Travel writer
msnbc.com contributor
updated 2/18/2009 10:53:23 AM ET 2009-02-18T15:53:23

A loafing rodent, a pair of dead presidents and a Hallmark holiday that owes its existence to a couple of martyred saints — is it just me or is February a bit of downer on the holiday front?

Fortunately, there’s Fat Tuesday (February 24) and the rest of Mardi Gras season, which are all about living large, loving life and indulging in all manner of good clean (or dirty) fun.

And now, thanks to the folks at Zatarain’s, a New Orleans–based food and spice company, there’s a move afoot to make Mardi Gras a national holiday. The company recently unveiled a Motion for Mardi Gras online petition in an effort to laissez les bon temps rouler from coast to coast.

Hear, hear! But in the meantime, it’s worth remembering that Mardi Gras is already celebrated in dozens of places around the country. New Orleans may be the best known, but if the Big Easy isn’t on your radar this month, you can always grab a hurricane and a slice of king cake and join the fun in the following cities:

Mobile, Ala.
New Orleans may throw the bigger bash, but Mobilians proudly claim that their city held the first organized Mardi Gras in North America (in 1703). Today, Mobile is home to “America’s Family Mardi Gras,” a month-long celebration with more than 30 parades, little tolerance for risqué behavior and enough MoonPies — the city’s favored “throw” — to stretch from Pensacola to Pascagoula.

With a week yet to go, remaining highlights include the Joe Cain Procession (February 22), which honors the man who revived the city’s Mardi Gras tradition in 1866, and a dozen parades between Shrove Monday and Fat Tuesday. Click here for more information.

Orlando, Fla.
At Universal Studios, Fat Tuesday actually falls on successive Saturdays between February 7 and April 18 with parades and concerts in the theme park’s New York neighborhood. This year, the program has been expanded to include celebrations on Sunday, February 15, and Friday, March 27.

As a themed parade, this year’s procession highlights the Wonderful World of Literature, with floats celebrating westerns, fairy tales and other genres. Once the parade rolls past, it’s show time with upcoming concerts featuring Ne-Yo (February 21), Kelly Clarkson (March 28) and Trace Adkins (April 4). Full-day park admission is $75, which includes Mardi Gras; Mardi Gras–only admission is $45.99.

St. Louis, Mo.
Alas, the ever-popular pet parade and wiener dog races have come and gone this season, but rest assured St. Louis’ Mardi Gras festivities will continue until the wee hours of Ash Wednesday.

On Saturday morning, the Lumière Place Grand Parade steps off outside Busch Stadium and makes its way through the historic Soulard neighborhood, south of downtown. Three days later, the Fat Tuesday parade rolls between the Edward Jones Dome and the Arch at 7:30 p.m. The former features 100–120 floats and family-friendly viewing areas; the latter, 20–25 floats and a more, ahem, “adult” atmosphere.

Vail, Colo.
Mardi Gras in the mountains? Mais oui, mon cher! Breckenridge, Copper Mountain and Crested Butte all sponsor pre-Lenten festivities, as does Vail, which celebrates CarniVail, February 22–24.

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Among the Vail festivities: a crawfish boil ($14.95, plus lift access) at Eagle’s Nest, atop the Eagle Bahn Gondola, on Sunday; a free “Mask-erade” party with Cajun food and family activities in the village square, on Monday, and a parade and king cake-eating contest on Tuesday. Stick around through Friday, February 27, and you can catch a free concert by John “JoJo” Hermann (of Widespread Panic) and his Mojo Mardi Gras Band.

Los Angeles
First opened in 1934, the Farmers Market at 3rd and Fairfax has been a culinary crossroads for 75 years. This weekend, the market will spice things up a bit during its 20th annual Mardi Gras celebration which runs February 20–22 and 24.

The biggest day will likely be Saturday, which features a full schedule of live music, face-painting and shaker-making sessions for the kids and the haute-couture hounds of the Mutti Gras Pet Parade. Afterwards, stop by the popular Gumbo Pot for chicken gumbo, blackened catfish and sugar-dusted beignets.

Galveston, Texas
It’s only been five months since Hurricane Ike ripped through the city, but Galveston isn’t about to forgo Mardi Gras. This year, the city is celebrating with two carnivals, several balls and balcony parties and 11 major parades.

Considered the largest Mardi Gras celebration in Texas, the festivities have been ongoing since late January, although several major events are still to come. Among them: The Krewe du Vroom Motorcycle Parade on February 20; the Knights of Momus Grand Night Parade, featuring Mummers from Philadelphia, on February  21, and both a pets parade and children’s parade on February 22.

In the meantime, the Motion for Mardi Gras is approaching 10 percent of its 100,000-signature goal. If you can’t join any of the above festivities, you can still join the cause.

Rob Lovitt is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com. If you'd like to respond to one of his columns or suggest a story idea, drop him an e-mail.

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