7 Things to Know About Mardi Gras Before Your Next Trip

Photo courtesy of REUTERS/ Sean Garland

Mardi Gras is a tradition that dates back thousands of years into ancient history. The festivities held in the city of New Orleans are perhaps the most popular to American culture. Mardi Gras is recognized as an extravagant celebration filled with fun and excitement. Every year, people travel to the streets to partake in the vibrant, colorful atmosphere and enjoy the culture at its finest. However, the story behind the history of Mardi Gras is not as popular as the festival itself. Here are seven things you should know about Mardi Gras.

1. Mardi Gras originated in Europe
Mardi Gras dates all the way back to medieval Europe. The common misconception is that Mardi Gras is a holiday that originated in the streets of New Orleans, but that is far from the truth. In March of 1699, two French explorers landed in present day New Orleans. Upon their arrival, explorers Pierre Le Moyne d’lberville and Sieur de Bienville celebrated, and named their new land Point du Mardi Gras.

2. “Fat Tuesday”
“Fat Tuesday is another name identifiable to Mardi Gras. It is actually the French translation. In the French language, Mardi means “Tuesday” and gras means “fat.” In Europe, Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday. This is the one and only day of Mardi Gras. Everything else leading up to this day is called Carnival.

3. Carnival vs. Mardi Gras
Most tourists assume they are travelling to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and fail to realize that Mardi Gras is only one single day, Fat Tuesday. However, New Orleans is known for celebrating weeks before Mardi Gras. The celebration spans over a series of weeks and is filled with festivals, beads, food and culture. The weeks leading up to the day of Mardi Gras is commonly known as Carnival. This is what people travel for, and while it is tons of fun, it is not necessarily Mardi Gras.

4. Mardi Gras is a Christian Holiday
It is the day, as explained above, before Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is the day Lent begins, so for 40 days Christians cleanse and fast. Originally, Mardi Gras was the day the Christian families would indulge in all of the generally unhealthier foods before participating in Lent in the days leading up to Easter. While the holiday still holds the same purpose, it has expanded largely over the years in celebration.

5. Mardi Gras is a Legal Holiday
Fun fact. Mardi Gras is actually a legal holiday in the state of Louisiana. In 1875 Governor Warmoth signed the “Mardi Gras Act” making Mardi Gras an official state holiday.

6. It’s kid-friendly
While it doesn’t seem like the best place to bring children to on a family vacation, you will often find children running the streets of New Orleans with the best of them. Let’s not forget this is a Christian holiday and although the culture has shifted over the years, the purpose remains the same. Families are more than welcome and, in fact, they come every year to experience the Carnival.

7. Krewes
A krewe is a group of people that get together and throw the countless parades that attract visitors to Mardi Gras season. Each krewe throws a parade slightly different than the next. In 1827 a group of students dressed up in colorful costumes and celebrated through the streets of New Orleans. This was the first celebration of its kind. In 1857, 30 years later, a secret society of businessmen called the Mistick Krewe of Comus marched through the streets of New Orleans with torches, marching bands and rolling floats. This most resembles the nature of Mardi Gras today.

Well there you have it! Seven things you should know about the history of Mardi Gras before you plan your next trip. For the year of 2020, Mardi Gras falls on Tuesday, Feb. 25. Have fun, experience the culture and bring back some beads!

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