10 fun facts about Mardi Gras
Tuesday, January 31, 2017
With Mardi Gras celebrations set to cut loose in a frenzied parade of feathers, costumes, beads and booze, let's get ready for the party with some fun and not-so-well-known facts surrounding America's wildest and most colorful festival.
1. Mardi Gras, meaning "Fat Tuesday" in French, originated as a Christian holiday with roots in ancient Rome. Rather than outright abolishing hedonistic pagan traditions of the time, religious leaders incorporated some of them into the new faith. That gave way to Carnival season, a period of celebration beginning Jan. 6 (King's Day) and lasting until the 40-day fasting period of Lent begins. These Carnival celebrations spread from Rome across Europe to the colonies of the New World.
2. Although it is always celebrated in February, the actual date for Mardi Gras differs from year to year. Just remember this: it is always the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. For 2017, Mardi Gras falls on Feb. 28.
3. Mardi Gras is celebrated in many countries around the world, particularly those with large Roman Catholic populations. International names for the festival include: Martedi Grasso in Italy; Martes de Carnaval in Mexico; Carnaval do Brasil in Brazil; Fastan in Sweden, J'Ouvert in Trinidad and Karneval in Germany. We know not why, but in Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland and Canada, people celebrate Mardi Gras by eating pancakes and participating in pancake-themed activities.
4. Another name for Mardi Gras is "Shrove Tuesday." The word "shrove" comes from "shrive," which means "to confess." Going to confession is common practice among Catholics prior to starting the 40-day spiritual journey of Lent.
5. New Orleans may host the world's most famous Mardi Gras celebration, but it wasn't the first American city to celebrate the occasion. That honor goes to Mobile, Alabama, where the holiday first held forth in 1703. By the 1730s, Mardi Gras was celebrated openly in New Orleans, but the city didn't stage its first parade until 1837. U.S. cities hosting major Mardi Gras celebrations include Mobile, Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, Galveston, Pensacola and St. Louis.
By the 1730s, Mardi Gras was celebrated openly in New Orleans, but the city didn't stage its first parade until 1837.
6. Mardi Gras is a state holiday in Alabama, Florida and eight parishes in Louisiana.
7. It just wouldn't be Fat Tuesday without all those purple, green and gold beads, costumes and decorations. How these colors became symbolic with the festival goes back to 1872 when Russian Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff paid a visit to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. The duke was named honorary king of the parade and with that royal visit the Romanoff house colors — purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power — became the official colors for Mardi Gras.
8. Organizations called "krewes" plan and stage parades, balls and parties for Mardi Gras. They are social clubs whose members pay dues ranging from $50 to thousands of dollars annually to help finance the elaborate costumes, floats and events. Krewes also are responsible for selecting Carnival royalty, including King Rex and the Queen of Carnival.
9. Did you know that it is illegal to ride on a Mardi Gras float in New Orleans without a mask? Yep, law requires masks for all float riders. Masks, of course, are essential to masquerading, but originally they served the purpose of easing class and social restraints of the day, allowing people to mingle with whomever they chose.
10. Parade "throws" serve as another example of a Mardi Gras tradition that began long ago and that has endured through the years. Since 1872, float riders have tossed out a variety of souvenirs to parade watchers. Popular throws include colorful beaded necklaces, plastic or aluminum coins known as "doubloons" that are usually decorated with krewe logos, cups, toys and assorted baubles and trinkets. Some throws are highly prized — only the luckiest of parade-goers manage to take home hand-decorated coconuts from the Krewe of Zulu.
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