Popular culture tends to associate the Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans with flashing and partying, but this rich holiday goes much deeper than that. Mardi Gras has a lot of cultural and historical significance that is intertwined into the symbols of the event. As we reflect on the festivites of this year's Mardi Gras Celebration, let's look back on the origins of this iconic holiday.
How Mardi Gras Started
Mardi Gras has its roots in medieval Europe. This holiday originally centered around spring and fertility ceremonies in the pagan tradition, then became a Christian holiday that people celebrate before Lent.
The history of Mardi Gras in New Orleans goes back to the end of the 1600s, when explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville called an area near New Orleans "Pointe du Mardi Gras" since he and his crew arrived on the eve of the Mardi Gras holiday they celebrated in their French-Canadian culture, explains the Mardi Gras New Orleans website. That first year, the explorers celebrated the holiday on their own in a small way.
A few years later, nearby Mobile, also established by Bienville, put on the area's first community Mardi Gras celebration. New Orleans joined in the fun in the 1730s, and became the main spot for the event in the United States.
Mardi Gras Symbols and Rituals
You will see many traditions and symbols associated with Mardi Gras. Many of these were added throughout the years by Rex, the Krewe organization that plans and hosts the Mardi Gras festivities. These are some of the traditions you can expect to see if you attend this event:
The celebration includes three colors. These colors don't go back as far as the holiday itself. Instead, Rex chose these colors in 1872 after the Russian Grand Duke's house colors. In addition to copying the house colors, each color acts as a symbol. This is what the colors symbolize:
It is a tradition for the Krewe members riding on the floats to throw beads and other items to attendees. Catching them is part of the fun. The Mardi Gras New Orleans website clears up the misconception that flashing of any body parts is an official tradition of the event. Instead, many people try this in an effort to get treasures, such as beads, although the action is not sanctioned by Rex, and the police can actually arrest people who do this. The activity tends to happen in the French Quarter, but not as much in other areas.
In addition to these traditions, Mardi Gras is also full of wonderful food, parades, fancy balls and the wearing of masks. You will discover many interesting symbols and rituals when you attend this cultural and historic event!