Carnival or Mardi Gras season as it is know to many in the United States is a riot of color, pageantry and fun. It is also a time of celebration that may be unfamiliar to some or seem mysterious to others. Check out these 16 Mardi Gras Facts to get the fascinating scoop on this annual multi-week extravaganza.
1. The beginnings of Mardi Gras came from Medieval Europe. In 1703, French settlers held the first organized Mardi Gras celebration in Mobile, AL (MardiGrasNewOrleans.com and Wikipedia).
2. Carnival celebrations in the United States start on January 6 which is the Feast of Ephiphany/King’s Day. This day is a Christian celebration commemorated in various parts of the world, marking the unveiling of the divinity of Jesus (Timeanddate.com).
3. Celebrations continue up until the day before Ash Wednesday which is known as “Fat Tuesday” or French for Mardi Gras. This day marks the last 24 hours of splurging and eating rich, fatty food before the start of the ritual fasting period of Lent (Wikipedia).
4. And no kidding, when midnight hits at the end of Fat Tuesday in New Orleans, the cops clear the touristy areas of Bourbon Street and the street sweepers are not far behind.
5. Nearly 100 parades take place in the Mobile and New Orleans areas during the Mardi Gras celebration weeks. Countless other parades take place up and down the Gulf Coast and throughout other parts of Louisiana during that time period. They are hosted by krewes/orders/mystic societies. You generally find the Krewe name used more often in Louisiana and Orders/Mystic Societies more often in the Mobile area.
6. Mardi Gras parades are known for their “throws” that riders toss out to spectators. While beads with all sorts of designs are commonly chunked to the crowds, some of the more unique throws include Moon Pies (Mobile Area), elaborately decorated coconuts (Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club-New Orleans), hulu hoops (various Mobile area parades), toilet paper and plungers (Krewe of Tucks-New Orleans), and shoes (Krewe of Muses-New Orleans).
7. In addition, many krewes/orders/mystic societies toss doubloons from their floats. Doubloons are coins often made of lightweight aluminum that are imprinted with designs specific to each organization. They are highly sought after throws.
8. Mardi Gras floats range from elaborate to simple depending on the parade. Often, parade floats are designed around a theme. Kern Studios, based out of New Orleans, is the world’s leading maker of floats. Check out this photo gallery of some of the company’s most spectacular creations.
9. Rex, one of the oldest Mardi Gras krewes, has been parading since 1872. This krewe established purple, gold, and green as the Mardi Gras colors of the New Orleans area (History.com). Mobile uses purple and gold as its official colors (Mobile Carnival Museum).
10. Speaking of Rex, he is the king of Carnival in New Orleans and Felix is the king in Mobile. (New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau and Mobile Carnival Museum).
11. Along with parades, many krewes/orders/mystic societies also host formal balls. At these balls, the King and Queen and their court are presented and entertainment abounds. Many of the balls are by invitation only, a few are opening to the ticket buying public.
12. In various Cajun communities in South Louisiana on the day before Ash Wednesday, the Courir de Mardi Gras or “Fat Tuesday Run” takes place. Participants dress in costume and mask and go on horseback or foot from home to home as a group to collect ingredients to make gumbo. These may include live chickens, rice, etc.. (NPR and The Times-Picayune).
13. King Cake is a sweet treat closely associated with Mardi Gras. This, often oval shaped, pastry is covered with icing and sugar in green, purple, and gold colors. You can order your King Cake filled with cream cheese and other delicious eats or plain. Tradition calls for hiding a small plastic baby inside the King Cake. Whoever finds the baby in their piece is responsible for bringing the cake to the celebration the next year.
14. According to the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau, more than 500,000 king cakes are sold each year in New Orleans between January 6 and Fat Tuesday, and another 50,000 are shipped out-of-state. Some well-known New Orleans bakeries that ship include Gambino’s, Haydel’s, and Manny Randazzo.
15. Today, you can find various take offs on the traditional king cake. These twists on the familiar include king cake burgers, cheesecake bars, coffee, daiquiris, ice cream, and soda. Also, growing in popularity is boudin stuffed king cake. Boudin is a South Louisiana specialty sausage made from ingredients such as rice, pork, onions, green peppers, and seasonings (The Cajun Boudin Trail).
16. Louisiana is the only state in which Mardi Gras is a legal holiday. The people of Louisiana take their fun that seriously.(History.com)
For Mardi Gras Craft and Gift Ideas: