Mardi Gras is a beloved celebration in many communities across the country and around the world. Of course, in the United States, New Orleans is the most iconic of the festivities. Not willing to be limited to just one day of parties, the revelry actually occurs for months prior to Fat Tuesday. But what is Mardi Gras, and why do we celebrate it? The history of the holiday is an interesting combination of pagan hedonism and Christian faith, which has come down through thousands of years.
In ancient Rome, pagan festivals celebrating springtime and fertility were annual occurrences. When Christianity became the religion of the empire, the rulers looked for a way to entice these revelers into the faith. They decided upon merging the Christian season of Lent, a period of prayer and fasting, with the yearly party. Noting that Ash Wednesday began a season of abstinence from meat, eggs, and dairy, citizens were encouraged to culminate their festival on the day before Ash Wednesday, eating everything in the home before the fast. Hence the name “Fat Tuesday”. When the tradition spread to France, it was translated to “Mardi Gras”.
Did You Know? The official colors of Mardi Gras are purple, which stands for justice; gold, which signifies power; and green, which represents faith. These colors were chosen by Rex, the King of the Carnival, in 1892.
When the French explorer Bienville established several French settlements in 1699, he and his men continued the Mardi Gras traditions and added masquerade balls to the lavish feasts. One of these settlements was located in what would become present-day New Orleans. Through the centuries, the custom flourished; but it was not until 1837 that a group of students donned costumes and danced through the streets; and in 1857, a secret society of businessmen (calling themselves a “krewe”) added a nighttime parade, illuminated by torches and featuring marching bands and decorated floats. These secret krewes still run Mardi Gras in New Orleans and are exclusive clubs with membership fees. The origins of tri-colored King Cake (which hides a figurine of Jesus) and the throwing of trinkets and beads is a bit more shrouded in mystery, but they are nonetheless irreplaceable aspects of the celebration.
Did You Know? In some places, it is actually illegal to ride a Mardi Gras float without a mask.
Although Mardi Gras is known to be a bit raucous, there are family-friendly parades and parties in many towns in America. If you are having a Mardi Gras party in Mission Viejo, don’t forget the beads, the masks, the King Cake -and the flowers from Mission Viejo Florist! After all, it is never really a party without flowers.