By Andreina Ibarra
Mardi Gras, also known as “Fat Tuesday,” is synonymous with lavish costumes, dancing, parades, and lots of merriment.
This great celebration takes place the day before Ash Wednesday, a religious feast that signifies the beginning of Lent. Over the years, Mardi Gras has become a popular cultural event in different countries around the world, where it is known as Carnival.
The most popular celebrations take place in Brazil; Venice, Italy; and New Orleans, Louisiana in the United States.
Mardi Gras in New Orleans: a bit of history
On March 3, 1699, two French explorers, Iberville and Bienville, landed in present-day Louisiana. They named the place “Point du Mardi Gras.” During the days leading up to Lent, people would gorge themselves on meat, eggs, milk, and cheese before fasting.
Over time, as people settled in the area, parties, lavish dinners, and masked balls were held. Some party-goers dressed in brightly colored costumes and danced in the streets. Others built floats and marched through the streets playing music.
No wonder New Orleans is the Mardi Gras capital of the US!
Mardi Gras in New Orleans traditionally has French origins, so it was originally held only in the French Quarter. Today the parade route has changed, however, taking place in various parts of the city.
The first recorded Mardi Gras parade was held in New Orleans in 1857. Presented by the secret society known as the Mistick Krewe of Comus, formed by New Orleans merchants, it was a themed parade with elaborate floats and a lavish after-parade party.
Since then, the parades have evolved, particularly in terms of the construction of ever-larger floats; but they always maintain the tradition that shaped the Mardi Gras we know today.
The big party in New Orleans
The Mardi Gras societies are a very important part of the celebration, and are known as “Krewes.” They are in charge of organizing the day’s dances and parades, with their floats, costumes, and everything else necessary. The Comus brotherhood is the oldest of the Krewes, having participated since the first year.
The official colors of Mardi Gras are purple (signifying justice), green (faith), and gold (power). These colors were selected by Rex (the King of Carnival) in 1872 to honor the visiting Russian Grand Duke Alexis Alexandrovich Romanoff. Romanoff visited New Orleans during that year’s carnival season and these colors were displayed in honor of his royal household.
The most delicious New Orleans Mardi Gras tradition is the King Cake. Between Twelfth Night and Fat Tuesday, King Cakes can be found in almost every local store.
The King Cake is very similar to the roscón de Reyes of Spanish tradition and the French galette des Rois. It even has a figurine of a child inside. It is a donut-shaped sweet bread dough, distinguished by its festive decoration in the three colors of Mardi Gras.
People begin eating King Cakes on Three Kings Day (January 6), and continue until the end of the Mardi Gras festivities on Ash Wednesday.
All these traditions became so successful that New Orleans has become a model of Mardi Gras/Carnival. Its majestic parades and the joy with which its inhabitants celebrate make the city’s Mardi Gras one to be imitated all over the world.
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