Mardi Gras

  • Mar06
  • The Real Mardi Gras Story in 500 Words or Less

    How much do you know about the story of Mardi Gras? It’s pretty well-known that Mardi Gras is a part of the Christian calendar, but many folks don’t know much about Mardi Gras history and culture. That’s okay: Who wants to sit in class when there’s a party going on outside? Still, the story of Mardi Gras is pretty cool. Here’s a look at its history in 500 words or less. We promise you’ll be finished in time for a little fun!

    Early American Origins

    In the United States, the history of Mardi Gras actually predates the birth of the nation. In the closing years of the 17th century, an explorer named Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville led his crew up the mouth of a bayou to a point near what would become New Orleans. He happened to arrive there on Mardi Gras, so he named it Mardi Gras Point. Fitting, no?

    Fast forward a few years and informal Mardi Gras celebrations were being held in communities around the Gulf Coast, including Mobile and Biloxi. The first krewe, or parade organizing society (also known as a “mystic society”) was formed in 1711 and dubbed itself the Fat Cow Society. As the years went on and the region’s population increased, Mardi Gras celebrations grew larger and more elaborate.

    New Orleans Gets Serious

    New Orleans was a relative latecomer to the Mardi Gras game: The first recorded parade didn’t occur there until 1837. By the mid-19th century, however, New Orleans was the undeniable capital of Mardi Gras. The city passed a number of no-nonsense ordinances organizing and institutionalizing Mardi Gras celebrations, including one that prohibited anyone from riding on a Mardi Gras parade float without a mask. And the now-ubiquitous practice of bead-throwing appears to have arisen in the city during the 1870s. Way to go, New Orleans!

    Modern Mardi Gras

    Today, Mardi Gras is celebrated throughout the country, but its historic and cultural heart remains in New Orleans and the surrounding areas. In most places, Mardi Gras is a single day; in Cajun country, it’s an entire season that stretches from Jan. 6 to the day before Ash Wednesday. It’s also marked by a number of unique cultural signifiers: elaborate parade floats and costumes courtesy of well-organized krewes; king cake and beignets that are among the tastiest examples of cottonseed oil cooking around; and a booming tourism industry that has brought New Orleans back from the brink of death since Hurricane Katrina.

    Mardi Gras is about more than beads, costumes and delicious food. It’s an integral part of the culture and identity of New Orleans and the surrounding areas. So the next time you’re participating in a Mardi Gras event, don’t forget a mental shoutout to the men and women who made this unique American event what it is today.