Lupercalia was the pre-Roman then ancient Roman mid-February festival to restore purity to the city, as well as, releasing health and fertility. When Romans embraced Christianity they outlawed most pagan rituals…they let Lupercalia stick around.
Carnival became a period of time to “let it all out” so to speak before the strict regiment of Lent began on Ash Wednesday.
By the Middle Ages Carnival had made it to Paris, France and was now being referred to as Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) preceded by Shrove Monday (now known as Lundi Gras).
1699 – Mardi Gras crossed the Atlantic with French explorer Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville. When Iberville crossed the Gulf of Mexico and set up camp 60 miles south of modern day Nouvelle Orle’ans (that’s N’awlins to y’all) on March 3 at the same time France was celebrating Mardi Gras he decided to name the location Point du Mardi Gras.
In 1711 the first Mardi Gras parade is held in Mobile, Alabama.
By the late 18th Century, masquerades and festivals were a part of French New Orleans culture but the traditions were abandoned when the Spanish took over. New Orleans came under U.S rule in 1803 but the masquerades did not continue until 1827.
1837 the first parade is documented and Mardi Gras is quickly getting a reputation as spectacle for violent behavior (go figure).
The Mistick Krewe of Comus, a group of six businessmen from Mobile Alabama in 1856 came up with a way to celebrate Mardi Gras in a less crude fashion. They also introduced marching bands, rolling floats, and black torch holders known as “flambeaux” into their night parades. Their parades continued until 1991 when their refusal to segregate prompted them to withdraw from parading, though they still hold an annual ball. Comus was, and still is, a secret society of the city’s most wealthy and elite men.
From the year 1861 to 1864 there was no Mardi Gras due to a little skirmish known as the Civil War. It was also halted for WWI and WWII.
Mardi Gras parades are organized by “Krewes” and some of the most famous in New Orleans are ZULU, Bacchus, Endymion, and of course the King of Mardi Gras, Rex.
From January 6th to Ash Wednesday the official food of Mardi Gras are king cakes (Gateau des Rois) – a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages – these cakes can always be found in the official colors of purple (justice), green (faith) and gold (power). Hidden inside each cake is a small plastic baby – stemming from an earlier tradition of finding la fève (the bean). The person who finds the baby must buy the next king cake.
The official song of Mardi Gras is “If Ever I Cease To Love” the theme of King Rex.
Mardi Gras Indians can also be found celebrating in their own unique way. Although no one knows their exact history (they were first referenced in 1746), everyone knows that they are an integral part of the season. They make bright handmade, ornate and beautiful costumes – some weigh up to 150 pounds.
The Tableaux Society dates back to the Twelfth Night Revelers and staging tableaux balls and the selection of a queen. Whoever found “Fève façonné médaillon” (bean-shaped locket) would become queen.
Mardi Gras has a special place in the heart of Girls Gone Wild. The series has become a Bourbon St. staple hosting wild balcony parties for the past decade.
Blaine Kern, “Mr. Mardi Gras,” and his company build 70 percent of the floats that are the focal point of parades. Most of his creations from his 65-year career can be found in Mardi Gras World, a New Orleans tourist attraction.