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.
During Mardi Gras costumes are usually only worn by people in parades or when going to parties. However on Fat Tuesday everyone is encouraged to wear a costume or mask. Most banks in New Orleans are closed and if you do visit a security conscious area expect them to ask you to remove your mask. While many people wear rented costumes the most sought after costumes are the unique and individual hand made one. Much like royalty no one wants to be seen in the same costume twice.Photo by Caitlinator
Maundy Thursday is thought to have come from muand baskets used in English fishing communities. Hundreds of years ago fairs were held, and people bought and sold cattle, horses, and other foodstuffs. Fisherman sold fresh fish from their maund baskets. Hats and other clothing items were also popular items for sale. Many Historians believe this is the origin the Easter bonnet.Photo by Mississippi Department of Archives and History
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
So you can’t come to New Orleans but still want to have your own Mardi Gras Party. Your first stop should be your local party supply store to pick out your room decorations. The Mardi Gras colors of Purple, green and gold should dominate, along with lots of feathers, sparkles, streamers or bold decorations will do. Next you’ll want to pick out some Mardi Gras recipes like gumbo, jambalaya or king cake. If you’ve never made these recipes before you may want to try a trial run before the big event. It wouldn’t be Mardi Gras with beads, masks and costumes. If your guests are cooperative try to get everyone in a theme. Lastly make sure you have some Mardi Gras music on hand. Nothing completes the atmosphere like some Jazz, Zydeco, or Cajun and Creole music.
- 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
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.
The Mardi Gras colors are purple, gold and green, and were chosen by the Rex Krewe in 1892. During that year the Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff of Russia was visiting and was chosen as the King of Mardi Gras. The theme for that year’s parade was ‘symbolism of colors’ and as an honor he was allowed to choose the colors. It’s also interesting to note these are the official colors of the house of Romanoff. The symbolism of the colors is as follows:
- Purple: – Justice
- Gold: – Power
- Green: – Faith
When Louisiana State University (LSU) and Tulane university where shopping for school colors, local merchants were heavily stocked with the Mardi Gras colors of purple gold and green. LSU choose gold and purple while Tulane bought up the remaining green, their colors are green and blue.
Most beads will come in the Mardi Gras colors, and many of the costumes will prominently feature these colors as well. If you are having a formal party or dinner try to incorporate the mardi gras colors into your dinnerware, decorations, or candles.
Mardi Gras beads are the most familiar item for a ‘throw‘. Parade participants from floats throw trinkets or other items to by standers and onlookers during the parade. Some of the items are cups, beads, medallions or coins known as doubloons. Some people have competitions at Mardi Gras to see who can collect the most throws and bring large shopping bags to stuff and carry home. The exciting party atmosphere causes normally law-abiding citizens to engage in questionable behavior in order to obtain extra beads. This is not required and may land you in jail if witnessed by local law enforcement. The proper etiquette for getting a beads or any other item is to yell, ‘Throw me something mister!!!’ loud enough to be heard.
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.