Laissez les bon temps rouler! Celebrating Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday, is a day of fun and frivolity. New Orleans has been the seat of Mardi Gras celebrations for years, but what is the history of this party day and how can you celebrate?
Mardi Gras has its beginnings in Europe where it was celebrated all the way back to the Middle Ages with the first recorded mention in Venice, Italy in 1094. Prior to this, there were festivals for many years celebrating the changing of the seasons, winter to spring.
The Catholic church added the festival celebration to the Gregorian calendar as Carnival in 1582. It was meant to be an opportunity for people to party and overindulge before Lent when they would be fasting and abstaining. It started as a whole season, beginning after Epiphany or January 6th and ending with Ash Wednesday. This Carnival season is still celebrated in places like Brazil.
Each country has its own way of celebrating and what they call the celebration. For example, in the British Isles, they call it Pancake Day because the custom is to eat pancakes. There's even a Jewish Mardi Gras of a sort called Purim.
Because of the French name, it may seem that Mardi Gras is primarily French, but that isn't necessarily the case. The celebration's roots actually stretch back all the way to the ancient pagans. Because today's traditions are a fusion of Celtic, Roman, Greek, and Egyptian rituals that go back thousands of years.
Mardi Gras in the US
The big Mardi Gras celebration now takes place in New Orleans, Louisiana but it didn't start there. It's generally believed that French-Canadian explorer Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville was camping in an area he called Point du Mardi Gras around 1700. He knew that Mardi Gras was being celebrated in France and decided to have his own celebration. That spot, Point du Mardi Gras, is what we know as Mobile, Alabama today. Even today, Mobile claims to hold the oldest Mardi Gras celebration in the US.
After New Orleans was founded in 1718, celebrations began being held. From 1762 to 1800, the Spanish suppressed aspects of those celebrations. After the United States took over governance they continued the suppressions until 1837 when the first recorded parade took place. Decades later, Mistick Krewe was developed, a secret society that established New Orleans as the seat of Mardi Gras celebrations ever since.
Today there are more than 50 krewes that participate in the revelry. These groups of merrymakers participate in parades, designing floats, hosting costume balls, and other social activities throughout the year and especially during Mardi Gras. Each krewe comes together around a specific interest. Finding a krewe to follow or join can be a fun activity.
Parades at Mardi Gras tend to have an annual theme. The krewes design their floats, costumes, and giveaways around the theme with a twist based on their unique krewe. The Krewe of Krewes, essentially all the krewes combined, make up the main annual Mardi Gras parade. Thousands line the streets of New Orleans to watch the parade and gather beads and other trinkets thrown from the floats.
The wearing of masks at Mardi Gras began as the opportunity to allow people from different classes to mix and mingle without giving away their identity. Today, wearing masks is just fun. Make sure you have a mask if you're in the parade, however. It is a requirement when riding a Mardi Gras float!
Decorate your home with Mardi Gras inspired items. Beads, masks, and homemade mini-floats are all great choices to set the mood.
Speaking of getting in the mood, add some music to your celebration. Jazz, R&B, and Zydeco are all great choices to listen to during your own festivities.
Since Mardi Gras celebrations have been canceled this year, try a virtual tour of the warehouse that holds the parade floats.
Food and Drink
You can take part in Mardi Gras celebrations at home this year by enjoying some of the foods you might find in New Orleans. Try making a gumbo or some jambalaya. A seafood boil, especially with crawdads, would definitely be a hit. Try a beignet, a bit of sweet fried dough sprinkled with powdered sugar.
The King Cake is a tasty treat that is enjoyed during Mardi Gras. So-called because of the three kings of Christmas fame, the King Cake is a combination of cinnamon roll and coffee cake. Sometimes, it even includes fruit fillings or dried fruit. It is typically iced and decorated with purple, green, and gold sugar as well as similarly colored Mardi Gras beads. To make it even more special, a small figurine of a baby or king is baked into the cake. Whoever finds the figurine is crowned King or Queen of the day.
You can enjoy your tasty King Cake treat with your favorite cup of coffee. Try our New Orleans Style Chicory for an extra taste of New Orleans to go with that delicious pastry. Or, if you prefer, our King Cake Flavored coffee is a yummy alternative with its flavors of cinnamon, honey, and vanilla along with our freshly roasted pure arabica bean coffee.
We hope you enjoy your Mardi Gras celebrations!