We have all heard of Mardi Gras, we know that each year New Orleans has a spectacular celebration during Mardi Gras, but what exactly is Mardi Gras?
The words Mardi Gras, mean Fat Tuesday because it is the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Mardi Gras always falls 47 days before Easter Sunday, which can be anywhere between March 23rd and April 25th.
Mardi Gras, is not to be confused with Carnival. Carnival begins on January 6th and is the period of feasting and merry making leading up to Fat Tuesday, the last day before Lent begins.
It is believed that the very first American Mardi Gras took place in 1699 when two explorers landed south of what is now New Orleans. These two explorers, Iberville and Bienville, celebrated and called the plot of land “Point du Mardi Gras.”
But, the first Mardi Gras with parades in the actual city of New Orleans, a celebration like what you witness today during Mardi Gras, was held in1857 by the Krewe of Comus.
Now you’re likely wondering what “Krewe of Comus is. The history of the krewe’s began as the formation of a secret society in 1704. Today’s krewes are many, and each is has a parade float they are in charge of. For a more detailed description of the krewes and their floats you can visit the Mardi Gras New Orleans website.
Mardi Gras even has its own holiday colors, like Christmas or Valentine’s Day. The official colors of Mardi Gras were chosen by the King of Carnival, Rex in 1892 and he gave the colors their meaning. Purple stands for justice, gold for power and green for faith.
A King Rex is chosen each year. The history tells that the first King Rex was Lewis J. Solomon. The founding of Rex was created in to bring some order to the chaotic streets and to entertain the Grand Duke who just so happened to be visiting.
Today, a King is chosen for each float by its krewe and how they choose varies per krewe. However, Rex, the King of Carnival, is chosen by the School of Design, who sponsors the Rex parade. The identity of the chosen King Rex is never revealed until the day before the parade.
There are many traditions alongside the history of Mardi Gras that are still part of the celebrations today. Some of these traditions are as small as throws from the floats to traditions as large as the Mardi Gras balls. The Mardi Gras balls are usually thrown be the krewes and are private, formal affairs by invitation.
The entire history of Mardi Gras simply cannot be told in a brief history. Each element of this holiday has its own history, as do the traditions along with the history.
Mardi Gras celebration takes place in New Orleans, but many cities hold their own special celebrations during Mardi Gras, so if you’re interested in a Mardi Gras celebration in your own area there probably is one.