Mardi Gras is a festive holiday held annually on a Tuesday between February 3rd and March 9th. The date changes because it is always held 47 days before Easter. Mardi Gras, which means Fat Tuesday in French, is held on the day before Lent, which is a 40 day period in which Christians give up meat and other rich foods. The holiday started as a way to indulge in the foods that would be given up for Lent.
Mardi Gras originated in pagan traditions of Medieval Europe. It precedes Lent because when Christianity spread to Rome, religious leaders decided to incorporate the traditions into the new faith instead of abolishing them. Mardi Gras was brought to the new world by French explorers who founded settlements near present day Mobile Alabama and Louisiana in the 17th century.
Today, Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans includes parties, elaborate floats, masked balls and colorful parades which are put on by organizations called Krewes. During parades, people riding on floats toss beads or other souvenirs known as “throws”, to the crowd. “King Cakes”, a cinnamon filled dough in a hollow circle, are a popular Mardi Gras treat. They are named for the three kings who visited baby Jesus in Bethlehem. A tiny plastic doll or golden bean that represents baby Jesus is hidden in the cake. The person that gets the piece of cake with the doll or bean is said to have good luck and must buy the next king cake or throw the next party. “Let the good times roll”!
- It is illegal to ride on a Mardi Gras parade float without a mask.
- America’s first Mardi Gras celebration was held in Mobile, Alabama in 1703.
- An estimated 25 million pounds of Mardi Gras items are tossed from floats.
- Mardi Gras is a legal holiday in Louisiana.
- Mardi Gras generates an average of $840 million dollars for the city of New Orleans.
- Approximately 500,000 king cakes are sold in New Orleans between January 6 and Fat Tuesday.