Mardi Gras History


Natalia Cullins, Contributor

What’s the first thing you think about when you hear Mardi Gras? Do you think of the New Orleans’ parades or the gold and purple beads? You could be thinking of the amazing food they have in the French Quarter. Whatever you think about, Mardi Gras is an important holiday to many people of the Christian faith.

Mardi Gras means “Fat Tuesday” in French, and it takes place one day before Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of a 40-day Christian season of fasting leading up to Easter, also called Lent. It is traditionally practiced by Catholics. (Newsweek) Mardi Gras is a tradition that dates back thousands of years to pagan celebrations of spring and fertility. When Christianity first arrived in Rome, religious figures decided to incorporate popular local traditions into the new faith rather than getting rid of their traditions altogetherAs a result, the Mardi Gras season connected with Lent. Mardi Gras spread from Rome to other countries like France, Germany, Spain, and England.  

Foods like shrimp etouffee, jambalaya, or red beans and rice are eaten during Mardi Gras. They also eat an assortment of desserts like their famous King Cake, which is a small pastry that is decorated in the typical Mardi Gras colors of purple, gold, and green that holds a special surprise in it. In one of the slices, you will find a small plastic baby hidden inside and whoever gets the slice with the baby in it must host the next party. (Allrecipes) To wash down all these amazing dishes, people drink an assortment of alcoholic beverages such as “The Hurricane”, “Pimm’s Cup” and “Mint Julep”.  

You are probably wondering how the Mardi Gras tradition in France came to America, specifically New Orleans. The First American Mardi Gras took place on March 3, 1699, when French explorers Sieur de Bienville and Pierre Le Moyne D’Iberville landed near present-day New Orleans, La. They held a small celebration and named this place the Point du Mardi Gras. As decades followed, New Orleans and other French settlements began marking the holiday with masked balls, lavish dinners, and grand street parties. However, when the Spanish took control of New Orleans, they abolished these crazy rituals and this ban continued until Louisiana became a U.S. state in 1812. (History) 

Mardi Gras this year was celebrated on February 16, 2021, but was unfortunately limited because of Coronavirus. Hopefully, next year we will be able to continue these amazing traditions and wear purple and gold beads again.