A Brief History of Mardi Gras

It is time for one of the most crazy and colorful celebration of the year: Mardi Gras!

Best known for masquerades, beaded necklaces and parades through New Orleans, Louisiana, Mardi Gras has become a staple of American culture for southerners and the country as a whole.

Would it surprise you to learn that the actual celebration of Mardi Gras did not originate in America?

The origins of Mardi Gras can be traced back to 10th century Europe and was celebrated most heavily in Italy and France. The celebration was brought to various parts of the western hemisphere as part of the cultural exchange that occurred when trade routes opened up across Europe. It later expanded further out from Europe when France began establishing colonies in the New World of the Americas.

By the 1730s Mardi Gras was celebrated throughout New Orleans but not with the parades that people have come to associate with the holiday. Instead, it was more common for people to attend society balls, which are what more modern Mardi Gras balls held in New Orleans are modeled after.

Over a century later is when the parades became part of the celebration. As newspapers began to announce and discuss Mardi Gras events in advance, the citizens of New Orleans began to take more time to prepare for the holiday. They did this by constructing costumes and floats to carry the celebrations further out into the streets and around the city.

The official colors of Mardi Gras were chosen by a group of businessmen in the 1870s as a means of honoring the visiting Grand Duke of Russia, Alexis Romanov. Green, purple and gold were the Romanov family colors: purple standing for justice, gold for power, and green for faith.

In 1875, the governor of Louisiana at the time signed the “Mardi Gras Act,” making Fat Tuesday a legal holiday in Louisiana. To this day the city of New Orleans still refers to Mardi Gras as the “Greatest Free Show on Earth!”

Story By: Carlee Blumenthal
Photo By: MardiGrasNewOrleans