Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is music, parades, picnics, floats, excitement ... and one big holiday in New Orleans! Everyone is wearing purple, green, and gold and there are parades everywhere. People are dressed in crazy costumes, kids are everywhere, and they love it! How did it all begin? Have the traditions changed?
The first Mardi Gras parade was held in New Orleans on February 24, 1857 by the Krewe of Comus. They began the tradition of presenting a parade with floats and following it with a ball for the krewe and their guests.
Don't confuse Carnival and Mardi Gras! Carnival refers to the period of feasting and fun which always begins on January 6th, The Feast of the Epiphany. Mardi Gras refers to Fat Tuesday, the final day of revelry before Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins.
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 is scheduled to be 47 days before Easter.
In order to organize and stage the enormous Mardi Gras carnival every year, many New Orleans families have belonged for generations to krewes, groups that create elaborate costumes and floats for the many Mardi Gras parades in the two weeks leading up to "Fat Tuesday." Not only do the krewes participate in the parades, but, as leaders of New Orleans society, they also hold balls and other elaborate events during the carnival season, which lasts from Christmas up to Mardi Gras itself. The krewes are responsible for electing Rex, the annual king of the carnival, whose parade is the climax of Mardi Gras.
Rex, the King of Carnival, selected the Mardi Gras colors and assigned meaning to them in 1892. Purple stands for justice, green for faith, and gold for power.
By law, float riders must always have a mask on. On Fat Tuesday, masking is legal for everyone else, and the elaborate masks that some wear add to the fun.
Mardi Gras is a holiday, just like Christmas and Easter. It belongs to everyone!