Mardis Gras is intensely celebrated in New Orleans, or as many people love to call their city “Nola,” and also involves a lot of partying. Of course, that’s not necessarily representative of the meaning the holiday holds and why people started celebrating Mardi Gras in the first place. The holiday is fascinating and weird, so we’re going to explain some facts about Mardis Gras that you may not be aware of.
First, you need some historical context of the holiday to better understand some of the reasons behind these strange facts. Mardi Gras dates way back to long before it was celebrated in the United States. It is actually traced back to Medieval Europe. Mardi Gras was first brought to American soil in 1699 by a French explorer named Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville, who named a small plot of land south of New Orleans “Pointe Du Mardis Gras” because it was discovered on the eve of the holiday.
When New Orleans was established as a city in 1718, the celebration of Mardi Gras was very different from how it’s celebrated today. Societal balls took place, which were much fancier than the way people choose to celebrate today. The holiday was incorporated into the religion Christianity. Over many years, Mardi Gras evolved into the extravagant celebration that so many know and look forward to every year.
Whether you’re interested in understanding the reasons behind the many Mardi Gras traditions, hoping to get answers to potential trivia questions, or are simply curious, below are some of the weirdest, most interesting facts about Mardi Gras that you may not be aware of.
Ever wondered what Mardi Gras even means? It actually is French for “Fat Tuesday,” which is definitely a strange name at first glance, but there’s a cool reason for it.
Mardi Gras is historically a holiday celebrated in Christianity. The holiday takes place in the days leading up to Lent, which is a season before Easter that recognizes the days Jesus spent fasting in the desert. Each year, it takes place in the weeks prior to Easter.
Therefore, to prepare for Lent, which involves an aspect of sacrifice (typically in one’s diet) for Christians, people would celebrate “Fat Tuesday” or Mardi Gras to stock up on foods they would subsequently have to sacrifice in the weeks leading up to Easter Sunday. These foods include “fatty” foods such as meat, eggs, milk, and cheese, and people would feast with all of these foods on Fat Tuesday, the day before the beginning of Lent.
Many people who celebrate Mardi Gras worldwide think that it takes place on just one day, but it’s actually regarded as an entire season. What’s known as “carnival season” begins on January 6, also known as the Twelfth Night, and officially ends on Fat Tuesday, when most people choose to celebrate by attending parades and parties.
If you have the chance to attend a larger Mardi Gras celebration, you’ll likely hear the phrase “laissez les bon temps rouler” time and time again. In French, it translates to “let the good times roll” and is known as the official greeting of Mardi Gras. It truly encapsulates the fun behind the celebration of Mardi Gras. Therefore, laissez les bon temps rouler!
The famous King Cake is one of the more obscure but beloved traditions of Mardi Gras. It’s believed to have originated in the 1870s in Europe and then carried on to the United States. To celebrate the season of Mardi Gras, celebrators bake a cake known as King Cake which began as a way in Christianity to honor the three kings who visited baby Jesus during the Christmas season.
King cakes are baked as ovals meant to symbolize the unity of the three kings. One of the most exciting parts of this cake is that there is a hidden baby inside the cake, symbolizing baby Jesus. The person who finds the baby in the cake receives good luck for the remainder of the year. If you’re in need of some luck in 2022, consider enjoying a King Cake with family or friends, and you better hope you find that baby.
For extra luck in finding that baby, enjoy a King Cake on your shirt and in your home!
We’re sure you’ve seen the colors in photos, decorations, or dressed up in them yourself, but the colors of Mardi Gras are purple, green, and gold. They each have their own meaning, all of which are significant to the history of the holiday.
Purple represents justice, green represents faith, and gold represents power. In 1892, these were the colors of a Mardi Gras parade, and the theme was “Symbolism of Colors.”
Some speculate that back in the 1800s, Rex, known as the King of the Mardi Gras carnival, wanted a flag for the city of New Orleans. Because gold was the obvious choice for representing the kingdom, green and purple were also chosen to pair well with the color gold. It quickly influenced all of the Mardi Gras decorations that so many love today.
Each year for Mardi Gras, the events in the heart of New Orleans revolve around different themes. All of the = krewes, which are organizations that put on parades or balls for the season, hold significant meaning for Mardi Gras’ historical and cultural background.
For example, Rex is a krewe that holds one of the most famous parades in New Orleans, and it takes place on Mardi Gras Day. Other famous krewes are the Krewe of Zulu, the Krewe of Mardi Gras Indians, and Krewe of Bacchus. Each krewe throws a different parade each year that is attended by thousands of people.
Face masks and coverings are legally required for those who ride on Mardi Gras floats, and we’re not talking about the COVID-19 masks that we’re used to now.
It began as a way to prevent people from revealing their identity during the Mardi Gras season, which allowed people from all different backgrounds and social classes to mingle regardless of status or wealth. Today, the tradition is upheld.
While all attendees are welcome to wear masks, it is required for those who ride on the floats. Masks of all types are encouraged, and people love to get creative. Whether it’s an extravagant face covering or a simple eyepiece, many people who don’t ride the floats choose to wear one to preserve the longstanding tradition that represents equality and diversity.
There’s so much lingo used around Mardi Gras that a glossary was created to help translate the meanings of all these words.
To name a few, “throws” are trinkets that are tossed from parade floats, “flambeaux” are torches carried by those who work to help light the parade, and “den” is a large warehouse where floats are built and stored.
If you’re traveling to Nola for the big celebration and you’re unfamiliar with some of these terms, you should study that glossary so that you can fit in with the carnival attendees!
We hope that it’s clear through some of these weird facts about Mardi Gras that it’s so much more than just a day, a parade, or even just a celebration.
We hope you have the opportunity to experience Mardi Gras in some fashion, or if not, relay some of these weird facts to your family and friends!