Mardi Gras in America
23 Feb 2017
It is that time of year again: Mardi Gras Madness! Carnival is celebrated around the world and, of course, in the USA is it really a spectacle. What exactly is Mardi Gras? Where does the term come from and what does it have to do with strings of beads? We have the facts!
Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday”. It is called Fat Tuesday because it is the last Tuesday before Ash Wednesday and the start of the fasting season that lasts until Easter Sunday. This year, carnival will be celebrated from February 24th to Mardi Gras on February 28th. Mardi Gras is a wild and crazy mix of music, rituals, dance and costumes and the most famous and biggest party takes place in the city of New Orleans in the U.S. state of Louisiana.
The Colors of Mardi Gras: Purple, Gold and Green
In 1872, during the King’s Parade, the “official” Fat Tuesday colors as well as their meanings were declared. Violet stands for justice, gold for power and green for faith. On Mardi Gras, you will these colors on costumes and strings of beads all over the city as well as on the …
What would Mardi Gras be without King Cake? King Cake is the New Orleans version of a cake that is traditionally served before the Epiphany (Three King’s Day). Some versions are filled with crème or apples, but the New Orleans Mardi Gras version is made from a yeast dough filled with or accompanied by fruit. What all King Cake recipes have in common though is a small object like a coin, a bean or an almond baked into the cake. Traditionally, a small baby figurine was hidden in the cake representing baby Jesus. It is still common to find a little plastic baby in your King Cake on Mardi Gras! The person who finds the object in the cake is the king for the day and must organize the next King Cake party! King Cakes are traditionally covered in violet, gold and green glazes or sprinkles. On Mardi Gras alone, more than 500,000 King Cakes are sold and another 50,000 are delivered by the nighttime courier!
Those who are interested in having their very own Mardi Gras motto-party and want to get a few ideas for King Cake decorations will find inspiration on our “Mardi Gras Madness” pinboard on Pinterest. We have even created some Mardi Gras mask patterns so your next costume party will be a success:
- Yes, I want a free download of the colorful Mardi Gras mask pattern
- Yes, I want a free download of the black-and-white Mardi Gras mask pattern to color it myself
Throwing Mardi Gras Beads
Even if you have not celebrated Mardi Gras in New Orleans, you will be familiar with the famous strings of violet, gold and green beads which are thrown into the crowds! It is not exactly necessary for a woman to flash someone to get the beads either. ;-) The bead colors correspond with the colors of royalty and the beads should be thrown at individuals who seem represent the meaning behind the color: justice, power and faith.
In earlier times, the beads were made from glass, but this was a little inconvenient for all the tossing going on! Now they are made from plastic and throwing them has become more popular than ever. There is no exact number of beads that get thrown, but during the large parades on the Saturday and Sunday before Fat Tuesday, however, several million bead necklaces are thrown.
The Flambeaux Tradition
As soon as it becomes dark, the torch bearers start their walk through the city spreading a mystical atmosphere. The tradition of the torch bearers has its origins in a dark past when former slaves and freed African-Americans carried torches through the dark streets to earn money. People passing by would throw them money for keeping the pathways for their carts lighted.
The torch bearers in the meanwhile have developed their job into a sort-of variety show. Now they spin their torches and toss them into the air as they dance!
The Zulu Coconut Toss
Zulu coconuts are just as treasured, if not more, than bead necklaces on Mardi Gras. During the parade, they are thrown to the crowds from members of the “Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club”. The coconuts thrown today are highly decorated with faces or the violet, gold and green colors of Mardi Gras!
FIND KING REX ON FACEBOOK LIVE
A king is crowned in New Orleans every year. Rex, the King of Carnival is crowned every year from the former Rex who is stepping down. The King of Carnival is always a prominent person. The new king receives the symbolic key to the city from the mayor during the celebration. Nobody knows who will be this year’s Carnival King. Follow along as we post pictures of Mardi Gras and America on our Instagram account (also check out our Instastory for exclusive insights) and become a fan on Facebook to watch the livestream of the Mardi Gras event live in New Orleans Lousiana! This way you can bring some carnival flair from the USA straight to your home!
To make your next Mardi Gras themew party perfect, how about to suit up in a three-colored Mardi Gras outfit from Opposuits? We wear them at work but we work at The American Dream office where our dresscode is meant to be crazy or casual! ;-)
Holy... history of Mardi Gras!
New Orleans was founded by French settlers who brought their fasting traditions as well as their carnival customs to the New World. On March 2nd, 1699, French-born Catholics arrived at the mouth of the Mississippi River and continued against the current until they reached the river’s west bank. The spot where they pitched their first camp now lies 100 km south of modern-day New Orleans. They named this location Point du Mardi Gras after the day that they arrived, March 3rd, 1699.
As conflicts between the colonists and the indigenous population grew in the year 1700, French troops were called to convene and the struggle lasted for years. Far away from home, the French soldiers wrote home about their wishes to return and their longing for French customs. In 1702, Fort Louis de la Louisiana or rather Fort Louis de la Mobile was established and the underlying foundations of the city of Mobile were laid. This settlement was located just 43 miles from Point du Mardi Gras and served as the capital of French Louisiana until floods and diseases forced the city to be relocated to present-day Mobile, Alabama in 1711. The first Mardi Gras in 1703 was celebrated at the Old Mobile site. In 1704, the Carnival social organization Mystic Society was founded under the name Societé de Saint Louis by French soldiers. In the same year, the Mystic Society organized the first Masque de la Mobile and this tradition was carried out until 1709. The Societé de Saint Louis celebrated Boeuf Gras (fat ox) for the first time in 1710 and that was the begin of the Boeuf Gras Societé which organized the first small parade a year afterwards.
Colorful masks and costumes became trendy during the French occupation, but were banned once the Spanish took over. The ban was enforced until 1803 when New Orleans became an American city. It was not until 1827, however, before it was entirely legal to wear these masks in public. In 1837, the complete ban was lifted and the first parade took place. The dangerous behavior of some people, however, led the city to once again ban Mardi Gras. This ban was finally lifted in 1857.
The first Mystic Society called Cowbellion de Rakin Society was the result of an all-night party Michael Krafft celebrated with friends in Mobile. The men “borrowed” a few agriculture tools like rakes, hoes and cow bells and drunkenly caused a raucous in the city. In 1931, the Cowbellion de Rakin Society participated in its first parade on New Year’s Eve and continued to march in the parades alongside small floats. Between 1839 and 1857, many other societies were founded.
Due to the American Civil War, carnival celebrations were cancelled in Mobile from 1861-1865. It wasn’t until the year 1866, 1867 or 1868 (nobody really can say when!) when the eccentric Joe Cain dressed up as a Native American chief and paraded through the streets to the amusement of bystanders on Mardi Gras. The following year, smaller groups of people joined in on the celebration with music and small floats and the tradition of celebrating Fat Tuesday was revived! No celebrations took place during the first and second World Wars.
New Orleans will transform into a motley mix of madness and color over the next few days, but New Orleans is a beautiful city even when it is not celebrating Mardi Gras and a visit is worthwhile. When the beads begin to fly this year, The American Dream will be there live for those who couldn’t be there themselves. So, don’t miss joining us for our livestream as we stroll through the hustle and bustle and charm of Mardi Gras! If this is not enough for you, then apply for the Green Card Lottery DV-19 and with a little luck you’ll be holding green beads in one hand and a Green Card in the other!