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.
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 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.
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
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 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.
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
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.
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 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.