Mardi Gras and the many celebrations around it just may be the biggest party, as a whole, in the world. The day is celebrated all throughout the world from New Orleans to Belgium, Sweden, Brazil and many more countries. It’s an annual tradition that is celebrated with parades, a lot of fun and indulgence.
Mardi Gras is celebrated prior to the religious holiday Ash Wednesday which is the beginning of Lent. If you are not familiar with lent, it’s a forty day period in which certain religions honor the journey of Christ by refraining from indulging in certain pleasures. Lent ends on Easter Sunday. During lent, those who are participate typically give up alcohol and fatty foods as penance. Mardi Gras was formed as a way to indulge themselves one last time before Ash Wednesday. It is known by a number of names, most noteably “Fat Tuesday” and “Shrove Tuesday”.
The annual holiday started making it’s way to the United States in 1699. According to the official Mardi Gras website, French explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville arrived in what is now known as New Orleans. He named his landing point, Pointe du Mardi Gras, after the feast celebration. Bienville would also go on to establish the town of Mobile, which is where the first U.S. Mardi Gras was celebrated in 1703.
Mobile would go on to establish a secret society in 1704 very similar to the current Mardi Gras krewes, only to last until 1709. Krewes are private, non profit organizations that get together to plan the parade theme and costumes. The following year, another society called the “Boef Gras Society” formed and would parade until 1861. The parade included a large bull head pushed forward on wheels by 16 men. It would eventually be changed to an actual bull covered in white cloth which signaled the upcoming Lent.
New Orleans would soon grow Mardi Gras, slowly turning it into the large celebration it is today in New Orleans. In 1856, a group of native Protestant businessmen began a new secret society, the Mystick Krewe of Comus. The society held a brightly lit parade throughout the city with a masked ball and elaborate floats, continuing to grow thereafter. Mardi Gras is now a celebration for weeks which sets a tone for other celebrations around the globe. On the last day, the actual Mardi Gras day, a number of krewes stage the parades including the Krewe of Rex parade and the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club parade.
The Krewe of Rex has held the most parades out of all New Orleans groups. Invented in 1872, Rex is known as the “king of carnival” in New Orleans and is responsible for a number of traditions including the current color scheme of gold, green and purple. The colors were picked to honor Russian Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff who visited the festival in 1872. The businessmen responsible for creating the Krewe of Rex introduced Romanoff’s family colors as the official colors.
“Purple stands for justice; gold for power; and green for faith.”
Mardi Gras became a legal holiday in 1875 when Louisiana Governor Warmoth signed the “Mardi Gras Act“.