Mardi Gras- a day of partying, parades, indulging in our favorite treats… but what is the history of this crazy, incredible day? We need to go back in time and into the religious significance to learn the history of this crazy, incredible day.
Shrove Tuesday- a day of self-examination in the Catholic religion- falls on the eve of Lent, which we know as Ash Wednesday. This is the last day of “Carnival” which means “farewell to meat”. Carnival begins on January 6th, “Twelfth Night” or the Feast of the Epiphany. For 46 days we celebrate and prepare for Lent. Carnival and Mardi Gras are celebrated around the world, with huge celebrations in Rio de Janeiro, Trinidad-Tobago, Nice, and yes, New Orleans.
On March 3 1699, two French-Canadians- Pierre Le Moyne Sieur d’Iberville and his brother, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville, arrived on a plot of land about 60 miles south of New Orleans. They claimed this land for France and named the spot Pointe du Mardi Gras- Mardi Gras Point. It was here that the very first Mardi Gras was celebrated. New Orleans was named “La Nouvelle Orleans”. Accounts of celebrations with dancing, wearing of masks and costumes can be found dating back to the early 1700’s.
The groups that organize some of the events, including the parades, are called “krewes”. Some of the krewes began as secret societies, others were established as social clubs…regardless of how they were founded, they represent the spirit of Mardi Gras, ensuring its continuation and success. The very 1st krewe was called the “Krewe of Comus”, founded in 1856, by a small group of businessmen. In 1870, the 2nd krewe, the “Twelfth Night Revelers”, was established. A visit from the Russian Grand Duke, Alexis Romanoff, prompted a 3rd group to be formed. They called themselves the “Krewe of Rex”. They were the first parading krewe. In honor of the Grand Duke’s visit they held a parade, named a king and queen for the day, and established the colors of Mardi Gras! (This tradition continues today.)Green, purple, and gold- the colors of the House of Romanoff- remain today as the official Mardi Gras colors. Green is for faith, purple for justice, and gold for power.
As the tradition continued, more krewes were established, now totaling around 95, and the festivities grew. Parades begin about 2 weeks before Mardi Gras- Fat Tuesday. The design of a Spanish coin-Doubloon- is used as a “throw”- something tossed from the floats to the crowds. They are decorated with the logos of the different krewes. These, along with beads and other trinkets are sought after by the crowds. Evening parades will also feature “flambeaux” which are special lamps carried on poles. Revelers and float riders wear costumes and masks- many are quite elaborate. The wearing of a mask is an old tradition. It concealed the identity of the party goers! The theme of Mardi Gras changes and the costumes often reflect the theme and/or the krewe. By law, ALL riders on a float MUST wear a mask!
A celebration is never complete without special food. Along with the famous Cajun, Creole, and New Orleans specialties, the King Cake is an iconic part of the festivities. Over 500,000 are sold each year! The King Cake is a delicious, round, filled pastry. A plastic baby is hidden inside the cake the person who finds the baby becomes the next king/queen and must host the next King Cake party. Fillings are endless…but my personal favorites are raspberry-cream cheese and cinnamon pecan. Yum!!
There are so many more interesting facts about Mardi Gras. Take some time someday and delve into this historical phenomenon!
“Laissez les bons temps rouler!”
Let the good times roll!!