Mardi Gras is French for the holiday known as Fat Tuesday, you know, that one day a year that Christians go all nuts and naughty before they start the Lent on Ash Wednesday. But the tradition goes back even further. Some think that Mardi Gras can be traced back all the way to the Roman spring celebrations in 133 BC and we all know how the Romans could party…
Celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans has always been on my bucketlist and last year I was finally there! With this year’s Mardi Gras around the corner, it’s time to share my 5 favourite Mardi Gras traditions with you 🙂
1 || The Krewes
Krewes are clubs that host activities such as parades during Mardi Gras. The tradition started in Mobile, Alabama and was brought to New Orleans in 1857 by the Mystik Krewe of Comus. Many of the activities could be seen in public, however, you couldn’t just join the activities or attend the balls and parties that were thrown. You had to be a member to gain access to all the Krewes activities and membership was exclusive to the upper crust of society. Without a big fat wallet or blue blood, there was no way you’d be invited to these exclusive gentlemen’s clubs.
Luckily, times changed. People from all layers of society began to form their own Krewes and in the 1900’s Mardi Gras became a party for everyone. As it should be!
2 || Mardi Gras throws
The tradition of handing out or throwing beads or other trinkets from the floats and balconies started in the late 1800’s. A carnival king started throwing fake jewelery to his loyal subjects and soon, other Krewes followed the example by throwing Czech beads, the predecessor of the plastic beads that are thrown from the parades and balconies nowadays.
Other than beaded necklaces, some Krewes hand out other items too. Dubloons with the logo of the Krewe printed on them for example. The Zulu Krewe has been handing out coconuts since 1910, because they were cheaper than beads at the time. Now, if you manage to get one, you are very, VERY lucky!
All these beads are wonderful, but there is a major downside to this tradition. Last year, the city pulled a staggering 46 tons of Mardi Gras beads from the clogged sewers. It took over 7 million dollars to finance the massive cleanup.
3 || Mardi Gras Colors
Purple, green and gold are the colors associated with Mardi Gras. Each color has it’s own meaning:
- Purple: Justice
- Green: Faith
- Gold – Power
There is some debate on how and when these colors first appeared. In 1892, the Rex Organisation hosted a parade called “the symbolism of colors” that gave the meaning to the colors. But there’s more to it and it’s complicated. According to historian Laborde the Carnival king of 1872 declared that all balconies had to be decorated in purple, green and gold, but there are no records of why he chose these colors. There are other explainations involving the flags of the UK, States and France and a theory about picking flag colors… but my favorite explaination would be: “It’s complicated, have another Bloody Mary”
4 || Mardi Gras Indians
The Mardi Gras Indians are possibly the most mysterious Mardi Gras tradition. History shows that Krewes were mostly “high society”. If you weren’t rich, you could not participate, simple as that. African Americans formed tribes as a response to this. They dressed in the most elaborative cstumes inspired by the Native Americans. Every year, the tribes compete for the best costume. Note that all costumes are handmade with thousands of feathers!
5 || Costumes and masks
According to European tradition, Carnival is all about masks and costumes. Masks are a great way to conceal your identity. During the celebrations, people may express opinions they would normally not, or show behavior they would normally not… Therefore, the masks are an essential part of the celebrations. Did you know that it’s even ILLEGAL not to wear a mask on the floats? It is that serious 😉
Mardi Gras has a long and complicated history. There are many more traditions around Mardi Gras and it’s not all just about the boobs, booze and beads. Think about the parades, the Brass bands, the jazz and the king cakes! I could spend days writing about all of them. But you know what? The best way to experience Mardi Gras is to just get out there and join the party! I wish I could be there again this year but oh well, atleast I still have this terrible picture of me being the typical tourist on Bourbon street :’)
To everyone who is celebrating: Happy Mardi Gras!
Coverphoto credits: Samslens on Pixabay