Eileen Donlon leaves her tree up long after Christmas.
After the holidays, she takes down the red decorations and puts up gold, purple and green, the traditional colors of Mardi Gras.
“Every year, I just added a little bit more,” Donlon said.
Galveston’s Mardi Gras celebration draws visitors from all over the region and state, and for the tourists the main events are the krewe parades and chasing beads in The Strand district.
But for some locals, the heart of the annual pre-Lenten festival is in hosting parties in their decorated island homes.
Donlon began decorating her historic house at 18th Street and Avenue L in 1997, when she held her inaugural Mardi Gras party, she said. What began as a small affair with few people now attracts nearly 100 friends and relatives, she said.
“It’s festive,” Donlon said. “It’s fun. Mardi Gras is about the party before Ash Wednesday, before Lent. It’s just a positive way of life.”
Those who decorate lavishly for the Mardi Gras season often do so with a party in mind.
Jane Lozano began decorating her 25th Street house in 2017 after she’d finished restoring it, she said.
She hosted a party that year that’s continued around Mardi Gras since then, she said.
“You can’t have people over for a Mardi Gras party without decorations,” Lozano said. “I have a black iron fence and we put beads on all of those. Inside is a tsunami of green and purple and gold everywhere.”
She has 19 giant, plastic tubs of Mardi Gras decorations she keeps stacked in her garage, she said.
The past two years, Hudson Holmes, a Realtor with Joe Tramonte Realty, designed a banner for Lozano’s house, he said.
This year’s banner features Lady Victory, the statue at the Texas Heroes Monument at 25th Street and Broadway.
“We wanted to have something with a little local flavor that truly represents Galveston, and Lady Victory was the first choice,” Holmes said.
Pam and John Froeschner are always on the lookout for new Mardi Gras decorations, they said.
The Froeschners have been decorating their Avenue O ½ home since the 1980s, they said.
“Everybody’s ready to party, so it’s just a fun thing to do,” Pam Froeschner said.
Their annual Mardi Gras party has been scaled back somewhat over the years, but the Froeschners still host a bash that encourages them to bring out an extensive collection of decorations they’ve collected, been given or found while traveling, they said.
There’s one main criterion that makes a Mardi Gras decoration, Pam Froeschner said.
“Anything that’s outrageous,” she said.
Claire Wilkins decorates her 24th Street home with masks, trees, garlands, crowns and anything else made in Mardi Gras colors, she said.
Wilkins lives in the Silk Stocking Historic District, where all her neighbors decorate, she said.
“We all go a little crazy,” Wilkins said.
The real value of Mardi Gras for locals is bringing neighbors together, she said.
“It’s such a really neat time for the island,” Wilkins said. ”We usually don’t have an excuse in our neighborhood to get together. Everybody’s happy.”
Donlon agrees that it’s a time for Galvestonians to embrace their community, she said.
Other events have come and gone, but decorating homes is just one example of the way locals have made it their own, Donlon said.
“Because people embrace it, it stays going year after year,” Donlon said.
This year’s Mardi Gras festival runs from Feb. 22 to March 5.