If you haven’t been to Mardi Gras, know a bit about it before you head to the American south for this annual renowned event. The event dates back thousands of years to pagan celebrations of spring and fertility. When Christianity arrived in Rome, religious leaders decided to incorporate the popular tradition into the new faith, so the excess and debauchery of the Carnival season became a prelude to Lent, the 40 days of penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Mardi Gras marks the final day of feasting and revelry before the fasting, prayer and moderation of Lent.
The first Carnival season made its way to the U.S. via the French.Many historians say the first American Mardi Gras was on March 3, 1699, when French explorers Bienville and Iberville landed in Louisiana. As the years passed, the holiday became more lavish — and more festive.
The first recorded New Orleans Carnival parade occurred in 1827, when a group of students in colorful costumes danced through the streets.
In New Orleans today, the early weeks of Carnival are marked with elaborate balls.
These balls, which are invitation-only, celebrate the chosen royalty for each krewe, or private club, and also serve as a “coming out” for the season’s crop of debutantes, the daughters of the city’s social scions.
King cakes are traditionally served for the first time on January 6, or on Kings Day, and are enjoyed throughout the Carnival season.
Atraditional king cake is a braided cinnamon-laced brioche-like cake topped with icing and colored sugars: purple, green and gold, symbolizing justice, faith and power.
Outside Louisiana, the most well-known Mardi Gras festivals are in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Cologne, Germany; and Italy. The traditional Mardi Gras ball is a lavish affair, calling for floor-length gowns for women and tuxedos for men. On Mardi Gras, costuming is a big part of including the renowned beads you see everywhere.
Photo credit: snowbombing.com.