Mardi Gras is one of the greatest multi-purpose events of all time. What started out as a religious festival has become a party-theme, tourist attraction, and international phenomenon. This Catholic pre-Lent blowout has blossomed into Carnival in countries like Brazil and Mardi Gras celebrations in the US. No one can agree how it began. Some claim that it was inspired by ancient Roman spring festivals. Others believe that Mardi Gras developed as a response to the restrictions imposed on the faithful during Lent – a grass root, unofficial celebration that grew into a church tradition.
Mardi Gras begins on the evening of the twelfth day of Christmas. The twelve days start on Christmas Day and lead up to the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. The night of the last day of Christmas begins the Mardi Gras celebrations.
Even though New Orleans is considered the home of Mardi Gras in the US, the first Mardi Gras celebrations took place in a French settlement that would eventually become the city of Mobile, Alabama. Mobile still hosts “America’s Oldest Mardi Gras,” every year. New Orleans hosts one of the largest celebrations, but the festival there has a tempestuous history. New Orleans changed hands from France to Spain and, eventually, to the US. The Spanish outlawed Mardi Gras. When the US took over, the French custom was censured and restricted. But that changed in the 1810’s when some private citizens developed the first krewe.
Krewes were closed-door clubs that held private balls and sponsored parades. These groups grew in number during the 1800’s, leading to the development of the massive party that is Mardi Gras today. Modern krewes continue the tradition, sponsoring floats, parades, and balls.
The most recognizable element of a New Orleans-style Mardi Gras is the King Cake. This braided, cinnamon-filled confection iced in the traditional gold, purple, and green that contains a plastic baby Jesus is a staple in the modern Mardi Gras tradition. The person that gets the babe in their slice of cake has to buy a future cake or host next year’s party.
No matter where you are, you can celebrate Mardi Gras with a great party. Decorate with the traditional colors, buy a King Cake, and invite your friends. Celebrate, embrace, and enjoy the tradition as this will only continue to keep Mardi Gras as the wonderful celebration that is.