This year, Mardi Gras falls on February 13. While many associate Mardi Gras with beads, parades, and general revelry, there’s a rich history that extends beyond the partygoing. In fact, this cultural phenomenon has roots in Christian and pagan religious history that helped it become the well-loved celebration that it is today.
So, how much do you really know about Mardis Gras?
Roots in Religion
Traditionally, Mardi Gras—or Fat Tuesday—is a prelude to the Christian observance Lent, the 40 days of penance that occurs between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. While its roots can be dated back thousands of years to pagan celebrations of spring and fertility, including the Roman Saturnalia and Lupercalia, the rise of Christianity resulted in these celebrations being incorporated into the new faith. Historically, the days leading up to Lent include merrymaking and feasting on meats, eggs, and dairy to prepare for the period of fasting. Mardi Gras is the day before Ash Wednesday, making it the last day for opulence before the fast.
A New Orleans Staple
New Orleans truly is Mardis Gras central, and has been for over a century. As the French continued to colonize North America and New Orleans evolved, the Mardi Gras traditions spread and developed into elaborate celebrations, galas, and feasts. However, one of the main staples of the Mardi Gras celebration—the parades—didn’t begin until much later, when the The Mistick Krewe of Comus established the now beloved tradition that makes New Orleans’ celebrations as spectacular as they are today.
Mardis Gras Traditions
What about the masks, the beads, and the flame torches? There is so much splendor to take in with every parade!
Masks: With a mask on, you can be anybody! During the early years of Mardis Gras celebrations as we know them, masks provided a way for partygoers to escape class constraints and social demands and expectations. This removed the social hierarchy and allowed people to mingle regardless of class.
Beads: Purple, gold, and green—the colors of royalty—are what you can expect to see as beads go flying through the air at the Mardi Gras parade. The idea? Toss the beads to the person who exhibited each color’s meaning: purple for justice, gold for power, and green for faith.
Flambeaux: Flame-torches have been lighting up the Mardi Gras skies since the first parade. Originally, flambeaux were needed to light the way for the parade, but now they are another spectacular addition to awe and entertain. When you see one, don’t forget to tip!
Ready to celebrate Mardi Gras right here in Gulf Coast? Check out the event listings so you can plan your festivities!