Fat Tuesday 2010 (photo by Jonno)Here are a few tips that any first-timer should know about New Orleans’ celebration of Carnival and Mardi Gras. If you have specific questions, feel free to drop me a line.

1. “Mardi Gras” is one day: the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. It is often called Fat Tuesday. Click here to see a list of Fat Tuesday dates for the next several years.

2. The season is called Carnival. Carnival runs from January 6 (aka “Epiphany”, aka “The 13th Day of Christmas”) through Fat Tuesday. So if you want to get picky, when you see someone on the street before Fat Tuesday, you should wish them “Happy Carnival”. You’ll hear people say “Happy Mardi Gras” all the time, but it’s technically correct just one day of the year.

3. Nudity is not such a great idea. Like most places in North America, you have to wear clothing on the streets of New Orleans. On Fat Tuesday — and only Fat Tuesday — laws in Orleans Parish (i.e. “Orleans County”) allow revelers to be naked from the waist up. Which is great if you want to show off your ta-tas, but not if you’re planning to show peen for beads. Which is ridiculous anyway, because beads are really, really easy to come by: no peen necessary. And speaking of peen…

4. Public sex is not such a great idea, either. For some of you, public sex may be the bee’s dirty knees, but like peeing on the street and carrying your booze in a glass container, it will draw the ire of New Orleans police. During Carnival, they are a very forgiving lot, so they’ll likely start with a reprimand if they see you attempting the horizontal cha-cha. Keep it up (ha!), and you’ll land in jail, and you aren’t likely to get out before Ash Wednesday. Meaning that you’ll have blue balls and you’ll miss one of the best parties on Earth. So, keep it in your pants or in the back room at Rawhide. Or on the table at Rawhide. Or on the bar at Rawhide. Or, well, you get the picture.

5. Costuming is not optional. If you’re just going out to a weekend parade, okay, you can leave the mask at home. But if you’re here for Fat Tuesday and you’re planning to wander the streets in jeans and a t-shirt, you are missing out, honey. Or you’re very dull. Get avec le programme, s’il vous plaît.

I know this is mostly a list of Carnival “don’ts”, but trust me: almost everything else is fair game.