A Brief History of Mardi Gras

The celebration of “Mardi Gras” or “Fat Tuesday,” in the United States originates in New Orleans (NOLA). In Europe, Mardi Gras is known as “Carnevale” in Italy and “Fasching,” in Austria and Germany. In Brazil, the celebration is central to Rio de Janeiro. Across the globe, this extremely festive and costumed celebration is part of preparing for Lent season, which is intended to be a season of little indulgence until Easter. The celebration of Mardi Gras in the United States, in particular, is an emblem of rich community togetherness (I find the subculture of “Krewes” fascinating and how people find yearlong community through that) and a notoriety for endless partying. The Golden Globe winning actress, Patricia Clarkson, is a New Orleans native and has been known to attend the Krewe of Muses in celebration of Mardi Gras.

Aside from celebrity sightings in New Orleans, Mardi Gras there is illustrated by King Cake (a brioche dough cake filled with cinnamon and a lucky baby piece symbolizing baby Jesus – Joe Gambino’s Bakery has been making King Cakes since the 1920s. In Europe, the complimentary concept of King Cake is “Krapfen,” a refined version of the American doughnut), bead catching in the parade, and jazz music. The bead colors are purple, green, and gold, representing justice, faith, and power. The beads can be all colors for decorations, but in New Orleans, the color scheme is primarily purple, green, and gold. Jazz music, according to NPR, the music of “the Crescent City [New Orleans] has provided the thread that ties all these traditions together.” Jazz historian, Michael White, is a New Orleans native and clarinetist who has been playing in a brass band since 1979 and has been continuing a tradition of jazz there for many years. Mardi Gras in New Orleans undoubtedly brings the best to bear of a city rich in history.

The origins of the tradition trace back to Medieval Europe – to Rome and Venice, Italy, and the French House of Bourbons (the city of New Orleans having a deep French history). In New Orleans, “On March 2, 1699, French-Canadian explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville arrived at a plot of ground 60 miles directly south of New Orleans, and named it “Pointe du Mardi Gras” when his men realized it was the eve of the festive holiday. Bienville also established “Fort Louis de la Louisiane” (which is now Mobile) in 1702. In 1703, the tiny settlement of Fort Louis de la Mobile celebrated America’s very first Mardi Gras.” Source Mardi Gras New Orleans. The famous French Quarter of New Orleans on Bourbon Street is where most people know the images of Mardi Gras, with the beautiful iron wrought gates. The Royal Sonesta Hotel of New Orleans is a great option for a French Quarter experience if you visit NOLA.

Perhaps most iconic, wherever you may be when celebrating, is to have a mask. I am a huge fan of Venetian masks and my family and I have always collected them. Find yourself a mask and put one on this Tuesday. As Irish poet Oscar Wilde famous said, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give a man a mask and he will tell you the truth.” That, in a quote, sums up the festivities of Mardi Gras.

Bourbon Street in New Orleans

King Cake

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