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When you think of partying, what do you think of first? Mardi Gras, of course! Fat Tuesday. The end of a month long celebration. "It's a season of revelry and romance, of madness and music, of parades and parties, of comic costuming in the streets and grandiose private masquerade balls. Mardi Gras is a time when the gaudy and the gorgeous all come together for one gigantic blowout. From the regal to the ridiculous, the New Orleans Mardi Gras has it all!"
The beginnings of Mardi Gras probably started back in Roman times. It is a pagan festival with religious overtones. Mardi Gras begins on January 6, Twelfth Night (which is the twelfth night after Christmas) and ends on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. It always starts 46 days before Easter, but since Easter is never on a set day, Mardi Gras can be on any day between February 3 and March 9.
The season surrounding Mardi Gras is called Carnival, from the Latin "carnivale" (loosely translated, "farewell to the flesh"). It's a time to live it up before the season of Lent. And every year, more than 4 million people do just that. It begins on the first night with a King Cake.
King Cakes are huge circular pastries decorated for Mardi Gras. The circular shape represents the circular journey the Wise Men took so that Herod couldn't find the Christ Child and kill Him. In times past, a pea, bean or coin would be placed inside the cake. In present days, a plastic baby is put in to represent the baby Jesus. Whoever receives the piece of cake with the baby in it is supposed to host the next King Cake party.
"Mardi Gras received its first mention in North America in 1699. French explorer Pierre le Moyne, Sieur d'Iberville camped on the Mississippi River on a spot 60 miles south of the present location of New Orleans. Knowing the date, March 3, was being celebrated as a holiday in his native France, he christened the site Point du Mardi Gras." As far back as 1718, masked parties were being held by the French in New Orleans, but when the Spanish came into power, they outlawed masked parties and street dancing. It wasn't until 1827, when the Americans came into power, that masked parties were able to be held again. Unfortunately, the parties started to get so wild that there was a danger of then being outlawed again. So a group of men formed a secret society called the "Mystick Krewe of Comus". They figured there had to be a way to keep Mardi Gras going.
With the use of flambeaux (lit torches), the first nighttime Mardi Gras parade was held in 1857 by the Mystick Krewe of Comus. In 1871, the first queen was selected by the Twelfth Night Revelers. "The Krewe of Rex formed in 1872 -- principally to entertain the visiting Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff of Russia. Since America didn't have royalty to properly welcome the Grand Duke, the men in Rex created a King "for the day" so the Grand Duke could be royally received. They secretly anointed one of their own (a certain Mr.Halliday) to be the King of Carnival." They were also instrumental in choosing the colors of Mardi Gras - Green, Gold and Purple. "The 1892 Rex Parade theme Symbolism of Colors gave meaning to the colors: Purple represents Justice; Green, Faith; and Gold, Power."
A very popular tradition of Mardi Gras are the throws. This was started in the 1870's. Each Krewe tosses a variety of necklaces, dubloons and other things to the shouts of, "Throw Me Something Mister!!". But beware, if you want to keep what they throw you, don't try to pick it up or your fingers may never be the same. Instead, put your foot down on it to save it. The most coveted articles are those that have the Krewe's logo or the parade theme.
As you travel through Louisiana, you will find that Mardi Gras is celebrated in many different ways. New Roads has a traditional country Mardi Gras with the riders and such, while Lafayette and Lake Charles do a mix of the urban Mardi Gras (like New Orleans) and a dash of the country.
At the stroke of midnight, Mardi Gras comes to an end and Ash Wednesday starts and the magic is over for another year.
(Sources used - ACCENT ANNEX MARDI GRAS HEADQUARTERS, Mardi Gras Throws!!, Mardi Gras: How It Works, Experience New Orleans! Mardi Gras Colors!, A History of Mardi Gras in New Orleans)
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