Brief History of Mardi Gras
When many people think of Mardi Gras, the first image that comes to mind is costumed and beaded partygoers in the Big Easy. That’s pretty much the modern version of Mardi Gras, but the history is more than just beads and costumes.
Traditionally a French celebration, Mardi Gras came to North America in the late 1600’s. The Le Moyne brothers were sent by King Louis XIV to protect French territory, which now includes the states Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. When the brothers landed with their party, the day was March 3, 1699, a French holiday known as Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras means “Fat Tuesday” in French and it refers to a day of decadence and indulgence before the Catholic ritual of Lent, where weeks of fasting take place for Catholics. Mardi Gras officially starts the day before Ash Wednesday–the official start of Lent—but many begin their celebration as early as January 6th or as late as 3 days before Ash Wednesday.
In celebration of Mardi Gras people wear masks and lavish costumes. There are no set rules for how a Mardi Gras costume should look, but many costumes are a nod to the French roots of Mardi Gras. It’s not uncommon to see people dressed as French royals or aristocrats from the 1600’s and 1700’s. Costume balls are common in celebration of Mardi Gras, as are masquerade balls that allow partygoers to be hidden while they indulge on delicious food, alcohol, and other tawdry behavior!
Although many choose to dress as French royals, many more have one simple rule for Mardi Gras costumes—make them extravagant! From peacocks to jazz legends, priests and feather-adorned showgirls, Mardi Gras costumes have become one of the celebration’s biggest attractions. Many Mardi Gras costumes are a blend of the rich culture in New Orleans. Costumes often embrace French, Caribbean and African cultures to make colorful and ornate Mardi Gras costumes.
Mardi Gras marching bands play through the streets of New Orleans often dressed as lavishly as the partygoers. The morning of the Mardi Gras parade, jazz musicians in elaborate costumes wake the city of New Orleans up with music. Thousands of people come to the Mardi Gras parade dressed in equally impressive costumes. Between the parade and onlookers, very few people are without their Mardi Gras costumes.
The beads that have become a common fixture at Mardi Gras celebrations across America give revelers yet another reason to choose at least one outrageous costume. However, since the festivities last several days and often include dozens of parties and costume balls, many partiers choose more than one Mardi Gras costume. The more elaborate and eye-catching the costume, the more beads and doubloons (gold coins) available to you!