While there is no official Mardi Gras sponsor or mascot, one figure you’re likely to encounter is a Mardi Gras Jester. This clown usually has white painted face and a floppy three pointed hat. The colors of his clothes and hat will vary but always include the official Mardi Gras colors of gold purple and green. In fact the jester is the single most popular costume for all of Mardi Gras.Photo by The Library of Congress
Originally Mardi Gras masks were worn by people who participated in Mardi Gras Runs throughout the town who caused mischief on the way. However as Mardi Gras has evolved over the years the masks became more about costuming and themeing instead of concealing your identity. While masks can be simple the most sought after masks are the most ornate and elaborate. You can find them covered with sequins, feathers, rhinestones, jewels and almost any other decorative material. They can also be found in shapes of butterflies, birds, and flowers.
The King of Mardi Gras is chosen by the krewe of rex. In the 1970’s local leaders passed ordinances limiting when and how many floats could be in the parade. The most famous parade at Mardi Gras is the Rex parade, which occurs on fat Tuesday, the last day before lent. The Rex Krewe chooses a community member, or local civic leader, which has helped the town, and that person is King of Mardi Gras , the highest honor you can have for the parade.
The origins of Mardi Gras go back as far as the roman times. The three day party before any fasting occurred the was known as ‘Carnival’. The celebrations continued and became very popular in Europe after the middle ages. French settlers arriving in Louisiana in the 1760’s brought the Mardi Gras festivals with them. The festivals grew in popularity until 1806 when local civic leaders passed laws outlawing the celebrations. This contradicted popular opinion the celebrations continued and the laws were abolished in 1826.
The next year attendance for the festival surged attracting visitors from France and England. During that time costume balls and masks were popular at parties, and many visiting tourists brought them to the celebrations. The idea was an instant success and is still carried on to this day.
The king cake is a traditional desert in Louisiana for the Mardi Gras . The king cake has a texture that is between a coffee cake and a sweet bread and is called a brioche. The cake is usually an oval ring, and covered with powdered sugars in the official Mardi Gras colors.
The king cake is believed to be a tradition carried over from France in the 1870’s. Sometime around the twelfth century in France they began to celebrate the epiphany, which occurs January 6th twelve days after Christmas. This was the date the wise men said to have visited the baby Jesus in the manger and present him with their gifts of gold frankincense and mur. The ring shape of the cake is to symbolize the circular route the wise men took to confuse King Herod on their return trip.
In the early days coins, beads or other small trinkets were hidden inside the cake, and the person who found it was King of the party. In modern times we have replaced the coins with a small plastic baby Jesus figure. It is still considered good luck to find the king in the cake, and the person who does is supposed to host the king party the following year.
The history of Mardi Gras in the 19th century created many of the Mardi Gras traditions that exist today. The celebrations and parties were become so large and unruly that the event needed to be organized. Social clubs of the times called ‘krewes‘ began to organize. The mystic Krewe of Comus was founded in 1857, followed by another legendary Krewe, the Krewe of Rex in 1872, both of which still exist today. These clubs chose leaders or Kings and Queens. In turn the King and Queen chose royal subjects. This was the highest honor any Club member could have. The royalty was permitted to ride in the parade on the krewe’s elaborately decorated float. Members on the float throw small toys, trinkets, beads or coins called doubloons into the crowd. These coins are often decorated or embossed with the logo of the krewe.
While Mardi Gras celebrations are carried out all across the United States the most memorable one and the one everyone thinks of is held every year in New Orleans. If you plan on going to Mardi Gras plan early most hotels start taking reservations in August and are completely booked up by December. If you decide to go January or later, expect to hustle on the phone trying to get a hotel room. Be aware that most hotels have multiple night minimum stays required, but we don’t think you’ll have a hard time finding something to do during Mardi Gras.
Looking for some food inspiration for your Mardi Gras Party, here is a list of Cajun and Creole inspired foods you may want to try:
Cajun Spice Mix
Crawfish Mashed Potatoes
Maque Choux Corn
Mardi Gras King Cake
Saffron Crawfish Risotto
Sausage Rice JambalayaPhoto by Phil Denton
- Floats for the Mardi Gras parade can coast from $65,000 to over $250,000
- Over 600,000 King cakes are sold between January 6th and Fat Tuesday
- Hotel occupancy rates for Mardi Gras average over 98%
- Mardi Gras generates almost 1 billion dollars in revunue
- Over 50 million Mardi gras beads are used during Mardi gras
- During the parades on the weekend before Fat Tuesday, over 2000 people throw over 1 million cups and 2 million dubloons
- In 1899 Fat Tuesday fell on Valentines Day
- Mardi Gras was celebrated as early as 1760 by French Immigrants
- There are Mardi Gras krewes that date back to 1872. Some of the newer Krewes dress as Elvis or have Dogs as members
- Some Mardi Gras Krewes draw their names from Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythology
- The Mardi Gras colors are purple, gold and green
- One of the most sought after throws in all of Mardi Gras is the Zulu Coconut
Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday is the last Tuesday before Lent, and comes right before Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras is French and is translated to ‘Fat Tuesday‘. Originally during Lent Christians abstained from eating meat (this practice has been adapted and now only applies to Fridays in Lent). Chefs and restaurateurs would fry up enormous quantities of bacon to have enough ‘fat‘ or frying grease to carry them through the 40 days of Lent. As lent was a time of reflection and sacrifice, this was the last opportunity people had for parties and enjoyment for forty days, so many cities with large Christian populations held elaborate carnivals or street fairs. They often included parades, costumes and ornate and elaborate ceremonies. The parties grew in size and length and were generally celebrated for seven days. This holiday is still celebrated today, with the largest street carnivals occurring in Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans.Photo by Caitlinator