The time has come, for that one notoriously festive week of the year in New Orleans. Beads, confetti, floats, colors, and good times will all be flowing as Mardi Gras 2013 begins in less than a week. While most of us are focused on the Super Bowl between two brothers and their respective teams, just days later one of the biggest festivals of the year will begin. Looking past the idea of Mardi Gras being just one big party, there is a load of history behind it.
The origins of Mardi Gras dates back to medieval times in Europe, including Rome and Venice. On March 2, 1699, a French Canadian explorer by the name of Jean Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville arrived 50 miles south or present day New Orleans, designating the name "Pointe du Mardi Gras". When Bienville and his men arrived at this point, they realized it was the eve of the festive holiday celebrated in their home land, which is where their naming of it originated from.
Four years later, in 1703, he established a small settlement of Fort Louis de la Mobile, which celebrated present day American's first Mardi Gras but not in the form we know it. That same year a secret society of what is now known as Mardi Gras krewes began to orchestrate the festival. A krewe, pronounced like crew, is a group of people who pay dues to be a part of organizing and designing aspects of the celebrations. There are more than one krewe, and no certain krewe has any more say than the next, even today.
By 1718, Bienville had established present day New Orleans, and within a decade Mardi Gras was being celebrated openly. Instead of floats, beads, and parades, it was celebrated in elegant society balls. Present day 'carnival' atmosphere celebrations didn't begin until 1781.
It wasn't until 1830 though that, how we think of Mardi Gras, became what it is today. That year, maskers with carriages, horse back riders, and gas light torches or 'flambeauxs' were used by members of the krewes. In 1875, Governor Warmoth signed the "Mardi Gras Act," making Fat Tuesday a legal holiday in Louisiana, deeming it the "Greatest Free Show on Earth".
Fast forwarding to present day, the decorations and floats of the parade have slowly evolved to what we have come to know today. Throughout the month there are multiple parades with the last one always being the biggest and the most extravagant. Mardi Gras, or "Fat Tuesday", is the last day of the Carnival season as it always falls the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Don't get Carnival and Mardi Gras confused though! Carnival is simply the feasting period before Lent begins. Mardi Gras refers to Fat Tuesday, which is designated as the last day before Ash Wednesday, celebrated by millions of religious folks around the world.
The rush of people during all these events is said to bring over $1 billion dollars in annual spending the the New Orleans area. None of which are to the government, as the governing bodies have no involvement in the parade and festivities, what so ever. They simply issue parade permits, and coordinate law enforcement throughout the events. Experiencing this is said to be something that should be on everyone's 'bucket list.' If you ever have a chance to do so, don't pass it up as it is one of the biggest and most historical celebrations on the globe.
When does Mardi Gras start and end?
The Carnival season actually begins on January 6 - King's Day (Feast of the Epiphany).
Fat Tuesday is never on the same day each year because Easter Sunday is never on the same Sunday each year.
Why does Mardi Gras fall on different dates each year?
A: The date of Mardi Gras changes every year because it's connected to Easter, which can fall on any Sunday between March 23 and April 25. Mardi Gras is scheduled to be 47 days before Easter.
What is the significance of the Mardi Gras colors, and where did they come from?
Rex, the King of Carnival, selected the Mardi Gras colors and assigned meaning to them in 1892. Purple stands for justice, green for faith, and gold for power.
Why are masks worn?
By law, float riders must always have a mask on. On Fat Tuesday, masking is legal for everyone else, and the elaborate masks that some wear add to the fun.
How much does it cost to go to Mardi Gras?
It's free! Not only that, but you'll come back home with bags of Mardi Gras beads and throws. That's why we call it the "Greatest Free Show on Earth!"
Is there an "Official" Mardi Gras?
A: No! Mardi Gras is a holiday, just like Christmas and Easter. It belongs to everyone! There's no bearing to claims of businesses who offer "official" Mardi Gras merchandise or an "official Mardi Gras web site."