Mardi Gras: History & Traditions

Mardi Gras: History & Traditions

Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday” in French, is recognized as the last day of eating fatty foods before the fasting of Lent in Christianity. During the days leading up to Fat Tuesday, celebrations known as Carnival are thrown worldwide. We’ve all heard of Mardi Gras and the festivities associated with it, but how many of us know the history behind it? Well, after some research, we found that Mardi Gras has an interesting origin story.

History

Historians believe that Mardi Gras started thousands of years ago and is associated with ancient celebrations of spring and fertility. When Christianity appeared in Rome, religious leaders combined it with popular local traditions and Mardi Gras became an observation before Lent. Mardi Gras spread from Rome to other parts of Europe and came to the United States when France began colonizing America. In 1699, French-Canadian explorer Pierre Le Moyne d’lberville camped 60 miles south of New Orleans and named the area “Pointe du Mardi Gras” because it was Fat Tuesday back in France. More French settlers then started coming to the U.S., and they held the first U.S. Mardi Gras celebration in what is now Mobile, Alabama.

Popular Mardi Gras Traditions

Most of us are familiar with the universal Mardi Gras traditions like krewes hosting parades and events, signature throws being tossed from floats, and the customized costumes with masks. There are also a lot of regional Mardi Gras traditions used at places around the world:

1. The official colors of Mardi Gras (purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power) are used to decorate King Cakes as a popular tradition in New Orleans. This cake is common in celebrations all over the world, but in New Orleans it’s decorated with purple, green, and gold icing and filled with fruit, pecans, or cream cheese. Every cake has a tiny plastic baby inside of it and the person who gets the piece with the baby has to throw the next king cake party.

2. In the beginning days of Mardi Gras, African Americans were often excluded from the celebrations, so they created the Mardi Gras Indian tribes as krewes. Now, there are over 50 Mardi Gras Indian tribes in New Orleans who compete every year to make the most extravagant costume.

3. Since Mobile is the birthplace of Mardi Gras in the U.S., giant formal balls and parades take place in the city. Mobile hosts the Mystics of Time parade, which features three 150-foot fire-breathing dragons. Also, Moon Pies are tossed from parade floats as a local tradition.

4. People throw buckets of colored water on each other in Goa, India.

5. The celebration in Trinidad and Tobago has African and Caribbean influences. This Carnival is known for large parades and Caribbean music performances and competitions.

6. As a symbol of spring, the city of Binche in Belgium throws oranges to the crowd. People also dress up in red costumes with wooden clogs and dance with brooms to chase away evil spirits.

7. The world’s oldest Carnival takes form as a 15-day blossom festival in Nice, France. In this festival, flowers are thrown to the crowds from floats made completely of flowers.

8. Rio de Janeiro has dance clubs instead of krewes in what is thought to be the world’s largest Carnival. The dance clubs wear remarkable costumes and lead glitter-filled parades to a stadium full of people for competitions.

9. Cologne, Germany has a very long Karneval (Carnival). Instead of lasting a few weeks, festivities begin Nov. 11 (number 11 represents the fool’s number) and go until Fat Tuesday. The party includes a rose parade, the burning of a straw figure, and all-night drinking. Karneval is known as “the crazy days” in Cologne because pubs and bars suspend closing times.

10. Fat Tuesday is called Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day in the U.K. The tradition there is to eat pancakes the day before Lent starts to use up the rich foods like eggs, milk, and sugar.

11. Greece celebrates the Greek Orthodox Easter, so they don’t have Fat Tuesday. Instead, Burnt Thursday is observed 11 days before Lent and people spend the day grilling meats. The Sunday after Burnt Thursday is Meat-eating Sunday, which is the last day people can eat meat. The last Sunday of Carnival is Cheese-eating Sunday and no meats are allowed, then Clean Monday begins.

12. Veracruz in Mexico features Latin revelries that start eight days before Lent. This Carnival starts with quema del mal humor, or the “burning of ill humor,” which is usually the burning of a figure symbolizing an unpopular political representative.

How do you feel about these regional Mardi Gras traditions? React below or comment with your favorite tradition.

 

The opinions and other information contained in these blogs posts and comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of Nicopure Labs LLC, owner of the Halo and Halo Cigs marks.

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About author

Kendall Davis 13 posts

Kendall is a true foodie. Her hobbies include trying new foods, traveling, and shopping.

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  • Gwyndyn Alexander

    Happy Mardi Gras from New Orleans! Daiquiris for breakfast, parades and music all day…there’s no better place to be!

    • Halo Admin

      Thanks, Gwyndyn! Nice picture! It looks like a great time.