Mardi Gras is rich in tradition and is celebrated all over the world. Many cities and towns hold parades, none bigger than New Orleans. When we think about Mardi Gras, a big party is what comes to mind. However, there is a lot more to its history.
“Mardi Gras is a tradition that dates back thousands of years to pagan celebrations of spring and fertility, including the raucous Roman festivals of Saturnalia and Lupercalia. When Christianity arrived in Rome, religious leaders decided to incorporate these popular local traditions into the new faith, an easier task than abolishing them altogether. As a result, the excess and debauchery of the Mardi Gras season became a prelude to Lent, the 40 days of fasting and penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.”
“Mardi Gras is believed to have arrived in North America on March 3, 1699, when the French-Canadian explorer Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville camped about 60 miles downriver from the future site of New Orleans. Knowing it was Fat Tuesday back in France, Iberville named the spot Point du Mardi Gras and held a small gala. A few years later, French soldiers and settlers feasted and wore masks as part of Mardi Gras festivities in the newly founded city of Mobile (present-day Alabama). To this day, Mobile claims to have the oldest annual Mardi Gras celebration in the United States.”
“By the late 1830s, New Orleans held street processions of maskers with carriages and horseback riders to celebrate Mardi Gras. Dazzling gaslight torches, or “flambeaux,” lit the way for the krewe’s members and lent each event an exciting air of romance and festivity. In 1856, six young Mobile natives formed the Mistick Krewe of Comus, invoking John Milton’s hero Comus to represent their organization. Comus brought magic and mystery to New Orleans with dazzling floats (known as tableaux cars) and masked balls. Krewe members remained anonymous.”
“It is rumored that when Grand Duke Alexis visited in 1872, his welcoming committee handed out purple, green, and gold beads to the party-goers that year, as they were the colors of his home. The trio of shades came to symbolize the festivities and were later given meanings: purple for justice, gold for power, and green for faith.”
“Popular practices on Mardi Gras include wearing masks and costumes, overturning social conventions, dancing, sports competitions, parades, debauchery, etc. Similar expressions to Mardi Gras appear in other European languages sharing the Christian tradition, as it is associated with the religious requirement for confession before Lent begins. In many areas, the term “Mardi Gras” has come to mean the whole period of activity related to the celebratory events, beyond just the single day. In some American cities, it is now called “Mardi Gras Day” It also has become a single people’s counter to the coupled-centric Valentine’s Day.”
“So Mardi Gras did not actually originate in America, but the United States has certainly embraced celebrations and made the festival her own. There are so many excellent things you can do over Mardi Gras, and your city will most likely be hosting some sort of parade or get together that you can attend.” Mardi Gras is a festival with a fascinating history!