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An Inside Look at the Traditions of Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras season is in full swing and one catchy phrase you’ll traditionally hear during this time is laissez les bon temps rouler! Simply put, it means “let the good times roll.”

And that’s definitely what Mardi Gras is about. But what are some other Mardi Gras traditions? Here’s a list of the top Mardi Gras traditions and a brief history about them.

The basics about Mardi Gras:

Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras means Fat Tuesday. It’s a day to typically feast before the weeks-long fast that ends on Easter. The day after Mardi Gras is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten season. 

Carnival Season

Mardi Gras season is also called Carnival season, and it officially begins each year on January 5 (Twelfth Night) and comes to an end on Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday, which this year falls on March 1. 

The date of Mardi Gras changes every year

The date of Mardi Gras changes every year because it’s connected to Easter, which can fall on any Sunday between March 23 and April 25. Mardi Gras always takes place 47 days before Easter.

Mardi Gras Colors

The official and traditional colors of Mardi Gras are purple, green and gold. These colors were selected in 1872 to honor the visiting Russian Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich Romanov, whose house colors were purple, green and gold. These royal colors are symbolic: purple stands for justice, green for faith, and gold for power. 

Mardi Gras Traditions:

Krewes

A krewe is an organization that works all year to plan out the balls and parades for the Mardi Gras season. These organizations date back to the mid-nineteenth century, and are usually members-only. 

Carnival Balls

Numerous krewes and other groups hold a Mardi Gras ball. There is a royal court, and the identity of the king and queen is a closely-guarded secret until the big reveal during the ball. Carnival balls date back to the 1800s and were very private affairs. While today, some krewes hold invitation-only balls, some are ticketed events open to the public.

Parades

Parades are a major tradition of Mardi Gras complete with floats, marching bands, and dancers.  Some parades have a theme that all floats adhere to. People on the floats blare out music while throwing beads and other items to the crowds lining the parade route, often to the shouts of “Throw me something mister!”  

Throwing Beads

The tradition of throwing beaded necklaces dates back almost 150 years. Beads were originally made out of glass, but today, they are predominantly made out of plastic. In the early days, the beads were either purple, green or gold, and the elected King of Carnival would throw beads of these specific colors to the spectators he felt had the traits represented by the bead colors. Nowadays, beads of all colors, sizes, and shapes are thrown.  Besides beads, other items that are thrown to the crowds are doubloons, cups, stuffed animals, frisbees, koozies, MoonPies, and more.

Masks

People wear all kinds of masks during Mardi Gras. Some are adorned with jewels and feathers and some may be ornately painted and decorated. Nowadays, they are worn for fun, but they haven’t always been that way. Back in the 17th century, the lower-class residents would wear them to disguise their identity so they could mingle with the upper class at balls and parades.  

King Cakes

Between Twelfth Night and Fat Tuesday, you can find king cakes just about everywhere. King cakes are round or oval-shaped cakes in various flavors covered in icing and/or sugar in the Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold.  A small plastic baby accompanies each cake (although nowadays, due to choking hazards, the cakes come with the baby on the outside for the buyer to place inside the cake). Custom dictates that whoever gets the baby in their slice of cake is king or queen for the day, and also has to buy the next cake. And, at times when a full king cake is just too much, some bakeries make king cake bites which are just as delicious. 

Fun Fact: 

The first Mardi Gras parade in Mississippi was held in Biloxi on March 4, 1908, in which 17 floats and several bands participated. 

So now that you know a little bit about some of the traditions of Mardi Gras, celebrate with a slice of king cake and laissez les bons temps rouler!

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Written by Mimi Bosarge

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