Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mardi Gras

lidaysAs today is Mardi Gras and it's one of the those holidays that don't really pop out at us here in the Midwest I thought it'd be fun to give everyone a little history on what Mardi Gras is. 

Mardi Gras means Fat Tuesday. This is reference to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the beginning on Lent, which starts on Ash Wednesday (aka tomorrow). Something that most people are probably not aware of is that Mardi Gras is not just celebrated down on Bourbon St. New Orleans - it's celebrated all over the world including: Belgium, Canada, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, and Sweden. Common practices that take place across the world are the wearing of face masks,dancing, sports, and of course parades. Most of the time in the U.S. Mardi Gras is another excuse to party - however, in Catholic European nations Mardi Gras is seen as a very important holiday to confession before the beginning of Lent. In these countries Mardi Gras isn't referred to as Fat Tuesday but Shrove Tuesday (associated with the confession before Lent).

Mardi Gras began in the United States thanks to two fellas called the Le Moyne brothers (Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville and Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville). It started with Iberville arriving at the mouth of the Mississippi River on March 2, 1699 (aka Lundi Gras). Iberville and party continued up the river to a place on the west bank that's about 60 miles from the current New Orleans and made their camp (this was on March 3rd, 1699, Mardi Gras). To honor the holiday Iberville decided to name the camp Point du Mardi Gras (aka Mardi Gras Point). Bienville then went further and found the settlement of now Mobile, AL in 1702. This became the first capital of Louisiana (back in the day when all the territories looked greatly different, refer to map below, Louisiana was HUGE!). As Mobile was the capital the next year in 1703 the city began the celebration of the Mardi Gras tradition. By 1720 when the capital of Louisiana had changed to Biloxi the French Mardi Gras custom came with the those settlers who moved to Biloxi.
Map of the U.S in 1700
New Orleans finally became the capital in 1723 where the tradition of Mardi Gras has since remained. To this day the celebration greatly reaches beyond those of Catholic or French descent. Since the start of Mardi Gras in New Orleans it's become a huge part of their culture and even a huge part of their slogans - Laissez les bons temps rouler (Let the good times roll) and has been given the nickname of the "Big Easy".  Mardi Gras is still greatly celebrated in Mobile as well. Other states and cities have decided to take on the Mardi Gras celebrations but I think it can be said that nothing will come close to Bourbon St. and the fun that comes with it.

Did you now that the first Mardi Gras parada was staged in the U.S. in 1837?
It has been reported that there was just one float, which, despite its crudeness, brought great joy to the people of New Orleans. Today, the city begins its cascade of parades the Friday before Ash Wednesday. The parades feature hundreds of different floats from the city's many parishes, each of which is sponsored by a different Krewes, or club.

Did you know that the tradition of Krewes (is an organization that puts on a parada and or a ball for the Carnival (Mardi Gras)) season tossing out handouts to parade onlookers -- or "throws" in New Orleans parlance -- dates back to Renaissance Europe?
That's where the festival custom started in which lords and ladies would hurl mead and ale at revelers. Some historians believe the tradition has even more ancient roots. Pagan peasants would toss grains at their fields in the springtime, as a show of gratitude to the deities for allowing them to survive the bitter winters. 
Kind of like a family crest only for your organization/club.
Float made by a Krewe to help put on the parada.

Did you know that the ever-popular beaded necklaces, so ubiquitously associated with Mardi Gras today, didn't come into play until the 1880's? 
That's when one of the Krewes dressed up a member as Santa Claus and had him toss out glass beads. It was such a hit that by 1900, beaded necklaces had become the Mardi Gras throw. Somewhere along the way, those lovely glass beads got replaced by cheap plastic and aluminum beads, which today earn the thrower a flash (of flesh). That particular "trading" tradition most likely dates back to the 1970s.
the throwing of beads from the balconies - find anyone you know?!
Looks like you can find about any kind of bead you want!
Did you know that purple, green, and gold are the traditional colors of Mardi Gras?
Purple represents justice, green is faith and gold symbolizes power.

Did you know that King Cakes are traditional Mardi Gras food?
An oval cake honoring the three kings is decorated in purple, green and gold colors, representing justice, faith and power, respectively. A small plastic baby, symbolizing the Baby Jesus, is baked into each cake. Whoever gets the piece with the baby not only will have good luck that year, but will also be responsible for brining the King Cake to next year's party!

You hope to find the baby in your King Cake.
They are creepy little things!
Yum - King Cake. 

There are many traditions that take place on Mardi Gras but for times sake I'll let you research more on your own - it's a very interesting holiday with deep roots in the American culture. So without further adieu - HAPPY MARDI GRAS!!!! 

1 comment:

Ashley said...

woohooo! I love this! I wanna go have the new orleans experience! :) cute blog lady!!!

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