The History, Traditions and Magic of Mardi Gras Celebrations

The History, Traditions and Magic of Mardi Gras Celebrations
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The History and Traditions of Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras is a beloved annual festival and celebration that takes place in many areas across the world, but is most iconic and grandly celebrated in New Orleans, Louisiana. With roots dating back hundreds of years, Mardi Gras has evolved into a multi-week party leading up to Lent, involving parades, balls, revelry, floats and more.

When is Mardi Gras?

Mardi Gras takes place every year on Shrove Tuesday, which falls 47 days before Easter Sunday. The date changes annually but is generally in February or early March. In 2023, Mardi Gras falls on February 21st.

Mardi Gras Origins

Historians believe Mardi Gras originated in mid-17th century with French and Spanish explorers settling near the mouth of the Mississippi River. They brought with them the traditional "Boeuf Gras", a celebration held before Ash Wednesday and the restrictions of Lent.

Over time these traditions merged with local customs like masking and costuming, which Native Americans used in spiritual ceremonies. This fusion created the Mardi Gras festivities recognized today.

Traditions and Customs

There are many lively traditions associated with the Mardi Gras season and Fat Tuesday itself:

  • Parades - Elaborately decorated floats, marching bands, crews on horseback and more wind through the streets tossing beads, toys and other trinkets to adoring crowds.
  • Masquerade Balls - Colorful, costumed balls held by Krewes (hosting organizations) and social groups.
  • King Cake - A coffee cake-style sweet bread topped with sugar in the carnival colors of purple, green and gold.

On Fat Tuesday, celebrations culminate with all-day revelry and indulgence before Lenten sacrifices begin the next day on Ash Wednesday. It's a final chance to eat, drink and be merry!

The Grandeur of Mardi Gras in New Orleans

While Mardi Gras pops up in various cities globally, nowhere celebrates quite like New Orleans. The party capital merges its French and Catholic heritage with Dixieland flair to create a one-of-a-kind display.

Krewes and Parades

In New Orleans, Mardi Gras "Krewes" date back to the 19th century. These special clubs organize the city's massive floats, elaborate balls and public parade spectacles for locals and visitors to enjoy.

Dozens of Krewes roll out dazzling processions almost daily in the weeks before Fat Tuesday. Crowds line the streets to watch and cheer as floats overflowing with costumed riders pass by throwing strings of beads, Medallion coins and fun knick-knacks.

Bourbon Street and French Quarter Festivities

No Mardi Gras celebration would be complete without a trip to infamous Bourbon Street and New Orleans' historic French Quarter. Every bar, restaurant and music venue joins the festivities with special drinks, Cajun cuisine and live jazz bands.

Revelers fill the streets wearing elaborate outfits and masks, dancing and mingling into the night. It's a nonstop party until police officers symbolically clear the streets at midnight when Lent officially begins.

Bringing Mardi Gras Home

You don't have to travel to experience a bit of Mardi Gras magic. With some creativity you can decorate and throw a celebration filled with the event's best traditions and flavors right at home.

Mardi Gras Decor

Set the scene with:

  • Purple, green and gold table covers, streamers and balloons
  • Mini parade floats made from shoeboxes
  • Homemade bead necklaces and masks
  • A King Cake as the centerpiece

Cajun Creole Cuisine

Capture authentic NOLA flavor with main dishes like:

  • Jambalaya - Spicy Cajun rice dish
  • Gumbo - Hearty seafood stew with rice
  • Crawfish etouffee - Creamy crawfish sauce over rice
  • Beignets - Fluffy fried doughnuts coated in powdered sugar

Mardi Gras Music

Set the festive mood with a Jazz, Zydeco or Dixieland soundtrack. Create a YouTube playlist with artists like:

  • Louis Armstrong
  • Dr. John
  • The Preservation Hall Jazz Band
  • The Dirty Dozen Brass Band

With the right environment, flavors and sounds you can live it up with a "Laissez les bons temps rouler" home style Mardi Gras!


What are the traditional Mardi Gras colors and what do they mean?

The traditional Mardi Gras colors are purple, green and gold. Purple represents justice, green represents faith, and gold represents power.

When did the first Mardi Gras parade take place?

The first Mardi Gras parade happened in New Orleans on February 24, 1857. It was organized by the Mistick Krewe of Comus.

What time does Bourbon Street close on Mardi Gras?

Bourbon Street stays open and crowded with revelers celebrating Mardi Gras all day and night on Fat Tuesday. At midnight, police officers ceremonially clear people off the streets as Lent begins.

What are popular Mardi Gras throws?

Popular Mardi Gras throws that parade marchers toss to crowds include beaded necklaces, medallion coins, stuffed animals, t-shirts, plastic cups and more. Many feature the event's signature purple, green and gold colors.

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