It’s Mardi Gras time, arguably one the best celebrations in the world. The origins of Mardi Gras link back to pagan celebrations of the arrival of spring and fertility, such as the Roman festivals of Saturnalia that celebrated the same and that of Lupercalia which was also characterized by banqueting and merrymaking. It stretches from Twelfth Night (the last night of Christmas) all the way until Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday” to reflect the practice of eating rich, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season. It’s also a time to bring out those colorful beads and masks and party! This celebration goes on in many parts of the world in various forms. So get out there and join the Mardi Gras celebrations on February 13, and party with the world!
History of Mardi Gras
‘Mardi Gras’ is French for Fat Tuesday. It’s also called Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Tuesday in different parts of the world. Mardi Gras is synonymous with carnival celebrations in New Orleans, Venice, and Rio, although the day is also celebrated in a similar fashion in countries with large Roman Catholic populations.
Festivities similar to Mardi Gras date back to ancient Roman times where people celebrated the harvest season. When Christianity arrived in Rome, these popular local traditions were incorporated into the new faith. The debauchery typical of Mardi Gras precedes Lent, the 40-day period of fasting and penance leading to Easter Sunday.
As Christianity and Mardi Gras spread from Rome to other European countries, new traditions were born and some old ones took on new forms. What began as a holiday rooted in religious tradition became a cultural phenomenon, leading to binging and parties that weren’t always followed by the 40-days of penance.
Mardi Gras celebrations began in America when French explorers Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville landed near present-day New Orleans, Louisiana. A few years later, New Orleans and other French settlements observed the holiday with street parties, masked balls, and lavish dinners organized by social clubs called ‘Krewes.’
Today, Mardi Gras is celebrated all over the world integrating local styles and native traditions. From Rio’s weeklong Carnival festivities to Quebec’s Winter Carnival and Germany’s Karneval that includes parades, costume balls, and a tradition where women cut off men’s ties to symbolize women’s power.
Besides the procession of floats, colorful beads also feature in celebrations in the U.S. and a king cake with a trinket or baby figurine, to represent the Christ Child, baked inside it.
Mardi Gras timeline
Carnival (the same thing as Mardi Gras) dates back thousands of years to pagan festivals of Spring and fertility.
French explorers land in what will become Louisiana. They celebrate and name the spot, "Point du Mardi Gras."
There were no celebrations during the Spanish possession of Louisiana.
Students danced through the streets of New Orleans imitating the revelry they'd experienced in Paris.
The tradition of ‘parade throws,’ where the float riders throw beads to the crowds, originates with the Rex Krewe, the city's oldest social club.
Mardi Gras Activities
Go to New Orleans
Arguably one of the best and most famous Mardi Gras celebrations happens in New Orleans. Anyone will tell you Nola does it right. Enjoy the dancing, the explosion of colors, the food, and the fantastic music!
Join a Mardi Gras dance group
Have you seen those incredible dancers in the Mardi Gras parades? Would you like to learn how to do that? Well, you can! Dance groups are springing up all over the country. Amaze your friends with your awesome moves, and maybe end up in a local parade.
Host your own Mardi Gras Party
You know how to throw a party. But this time, you get to add riots of color. The more outrageous, the more ostentatious, the better your party will be. You really can't go wrong. Tell everyone to bring their craziest costume ever. They'll love the chance to set their imaginations free.
Why We Love Mardi Gras
It is celebrated across the world
Pre-Lenten festivals take place all around the world in many countries with significant Roman Catholic populations. Celebrations include masquerade balls, carnival festivities, parades, dress-ups, and costume balls.
It encourages us to be silly
Mardi Gras is when we let our hair down. You can do any goofy thing and everyone will cheer you on. Put on your most outrageous costume and boogie. Wear a tutu, don a headdress, or maybe just put on a lampshade and dance on a table. It's all good. That's the spirit of Mardi Gras!
The people-watching is unbeatable
Even if you're not one of those awesome dancers or marchers in the parades, it's still all about having fun. This is the best day to share laughs and artistic expression. People save their creative juices preparing for this event and it shows. Enjoy the costumes and imagination of the revelers. Soak in the sights that only come about once a year. Walk through the streets with thousands of friends you've never met before.
Mardi Gras dates