Mardi Gras History

The history of Mardi Gras is as colorful as the beads and trinkets thrown out to the crowds during parades and other celebrations for this carnival event. Most historic facts about Mardi Gras are in agreement of the celebration’s origins, which are essentially in Medieval Europe, though the carnival season also incorporates elements from Roman festivals like Lupercalia and Saturnalia.

The Carnival season in different countries comes with a different feel and incorporates unique traditions. Shrove Tuesday, as it’s known in Ireland and the UK, includes making pancakes, while the German Fastnacht celebration includes parades and costume parties, but also a tradition in which women cut off men’s ties. The Brazilian carnival in Rio incorporates a combination of European, African, and native South American traditions into the music and atmosphere of the party.

Mardi Gras itself is predominantly a North American holiday, and the best-known celebrations of this event are in the US. Although the first Mardi Gras was held in what is now Mobile, Alabama, in 1703, New Orleans has become the most famous place to go for Fat Tuesday. The history of Mardi Gras in New Orleans began in 1699 when a section of land was named Pointe du Mardi Gras by brothers Pierre le Moyne and Jean Baptiste le Moyne, who were French-Canadian explorers. Pointe due Mardi Gras was located approximately 60 miles from what would become New Orleans.

Another of the facts about Mardi Gras celebrations early on dates to 1702, when Jean Baptiste le Moyne established the settlement of Fort Louis de la Louisiane, which held its first Mardi Gras celebration the following year. In 1704, the history of Mardi Gras includes the creation of the first related secret society, known as the Masque de la Mobile. A second group known as the Boeuf Graf Society was formed in 1710. The Masque de la Mobile lasted until 1709 and the Boeuf Graf Society until 1861. These early societies are similar to the Krewes that continue to play a significant role at Mardi Gras in New Orleans and elsewhere.

The history of Mardi Gras in New Orleans begins with the establishment of a new settlement in 1718 named New Orleans by Bienville. In 1722, New Orleans became the official seat of government. It was not until the mid 1730s that Mardi Gras was celebrated in New Orleans in the form of elegant dress balls. The late 1780s were also an important time in the history of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, as it was during these years that the event began to gain its carnival atmosphere, which developed into the festive parades and masks we associate with the holiday today.

In 1871, the Twelfth Night Reveler's Krewe was formed and with it, the instigation of tossing trinkets to the parade crowds, a practice known as "throws." Two important facts about Mardi Gras are the introduction of a King of Carnival, known as Rex, in 1872 and the colorful addition of purple, gold, and green as the official Mardi Gras colors. These are still an integral part of the celebration today; the colors, for instance, have specific meanings. Purple stands for justice, green for faith, and gold for power.

Along with jovial crowds, extravagant masks, colorful costumes, and assorted trinkets and beads for revelers, Mardi Gras is known for its creative floats. In 1873, the first floats were built in New Orleans for the celebrations instead of being constructed in France and shipped over. The celebration of Mardi Gras was made into a legal holiday in 1875 when the governor of Louisiana signed the Mardi Gras Act into law.

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