FEBRUARY 28, 2017 – Fat Tuesday. Be sure to check out our elaborate rental costumes and pick up some festive beads, masks, hats and decorations. Anything goes for Mardi Gras attire.
Mardi Gras means “Fat Tuesday” and, of course, is traditionally celebrated on that day of the week, though there are parties and parades for weeks before Fat Tuesday. The date can fall between February 3 and March 9 depending on the Lunar calendar, used by the Catholic Church to determine the date of Easter. Mardi Gras is always 47 days before Easter Sunday.
The official colors for Mardi Gras are purple, green, and gold. These colors were chosen in 1872 by the King of Carnivale, Rex. He chose these colors to stand for the following:
- Purple represents JUSTICE
- Green stands for FAITH
- Gold stands for POWER
A LITTLE MARDI GRAS HISTORY
The history of Mardi Gras began long before Europeans set foot in the New World. In mid February the ancient Romans celebrated the Lupercalia, a circus like festival not entirely unlike the Mardi Gras we are familiar with today. When Rome embraced Christianity, the early Church fathers decided it was better to incorporate certain aspects of pagan rituals into the new faith rather than attempt to abolish them altogether. Carnivale became a period of abandon and merriment that preceded the penance of Lent, thus giving a Christian interpretation to the ancient custom.
Mardi Gras came to America in 1699 with the French explorer Iberville. Mardi Gras had been celebrated in Paris since the Middle Ages, where it was a major holiday. Iberville sailed into the Gulf of Mexico, from where he launched an expedition up the Mississippi River. On March 3 of 1699, Iberville had set up a camp on the west bank of the river about 60 miles south of where New Orleans is today. This was the day Mardi Gras was being celebrated in France. In honor of this important day, Iberville named the site Point du Mardi Gras.
During the late 1700′s, pre-Lenten masked balls and festivals were common in New Orleans while it was under French rule. However when New Orleans came under Spanish rule the custom was banned. In 1803 New Orleans came under the U.S. flag. The prohibition against masked festivals continued until 1823 when the Creole populace convinced the governor to permit masked balls. In 1827 street masking was again legalized.
During the early 1800′s public celebrations of Mardi Gras centered around maskers on foot, in carriages and on horseback. The first documented parade occurred in 1837. Unfortunately, Mardi Gras gained a negative reputation because of violent behavior attributed to maskers during the 1840′s and 50′s. The situation became so bad that the press began calling for an end to the celebration. In 1857 six New Orleanians saved Mardi Gras by forming the Comus organization. These six men were former members of the Cowbellians, an organization which had put on New Year’s Eve parades in Mobile since 1831. The Comus organization added beauty to Mardi Gras and demonstrated that it could be a safe and festive event. Comus was the first organization to use the term krewe to describe itself. Comus also started the customs of having a secret Carnivale society, having a parade with a unifying theme with floats, and of having a ball after the parade. Comus was also the first organization to name itself after a mythological character. The celebration of Mardi Gras was interrupted by the Civil War, but in 1866 Comus returned. In 1870 the Twelfth Night Revelers made their appearance. In 1871 they began the custom of presenting a young woman with a golden bean hidden in a cake. This young woman was the first queen of Mardi Gras. This was also the origin of the king cake tradition. In 1872 Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff of Russia visited New Orleans. This year the krewe of Rex made their debut and began the tradition of the “King of Carnivale.” Rex also introduced purple, gold and green as the official colors of Mardi Gras. Rex was the first krewe to hold an organized daytime parade and introduced “If Ever I Cease To Love” as the Mardi Gras anthem. One of the high points of Rex is the arrival of the Rex King on a riverboat. 1872 also saw the debut of the Knights of Momus on New Year’s Eve. Ten years later in 1882, the Krewe of Proteus made its debut with a parade themed after Egyptian mythology. In 1890 the first marching club, The Jefferson City Buzzards, was organized. In 1894, the Original Illinois Club was formed as the first black Mardi Gras organization. In 1896 Les Mysterieuses appeared as the first female organization. In 1909 Zulu appeared as a parody of Rex. The Zulu King held a banana stalk scepter and wore a lard can crown. He arrived on an oyster lugger instead of a steamboat. Zulu was destined to become one of the most popular and beloved of all krewes.
Mardi Gras was canceled during the dark years of 1918 and 1919 when the United States was involved in the bloody fighting of the First World War. The celebration struggled through the 1920′s and early 30′s, which saw Prohibition and The Great Depression. The krewe of Alla brought carnival to the West Bank in 1934. With the rise of mass produced automobiles, random truck riders had become part of the Mardi Gras scene. In 1835 they organized themselves into the Elkes Krewe of Orleanians. The Krewe of Hermes appeared in 1937 and the Knights of Babylon in 1939. Mardi Gras prospered since the 1940′s, although it was canceled during the war years.
Diehard revelers believe if you haven’t done Carnivale in Brazil then you haven’t done Carnivale. Brazil is the last remaining place where the original meaning of carnivale is still the mass orgy. Carnivale was incorporated into the Catholic church in the 3rd century, when they initiated the doctrine of christianizing the pagans and since all pagan cultures had mass fertility rites at the beginning of spring, the church fathers consolidated these fertility rites into Easter. Of course adding their own meanings. It might seem strange that the church would allow mass orgies, but, the original doctrine was that anything was allowed as long as it led you to god and since this was a way to make Christians out of pagans it was considered OK by the church until about the 13th century. Brazil for Carnivale becomes the land of sex and indulgence. Yes the people are Christians but Christianity is only part of their religion which also includes voodoo and other pagan practices brought over from Africa.
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