Mardi Gras: the history and its significance

Mardi Gras Parade.jpg

Mardi Gras has a deep and rich history that goes beyond the Gulf Coast's parades and parties. 

Often seen as a celebration full of beads and smothered with the colors green, yellow and purple, Mardi Gras is a staple event for those who choose to take part in the festivities.

But what exactly is Mardi Gras and why have people celebrated it for the past several centuries?

Traditionally, Mardi Gras refers to a celebration beginning on the Christian feasts of the Epiphany. The celebration, also known as “Fat Tuesday,” occurs on the day before Ash Wednesday and occurs 46 days before Easter Sunday.

According to Mardi Gras New Orleans’ website, the origins of Mardi Gras were birthed from medieval Europe and eventually made its way to New Orleans once the settlement was established in 1718. However, the celebration resembled in the form of elegant balls rather than extravagant parades.

It wasn’t until after the first parade in New Orleans in 1837 that the festivities began to resemble how it is today. Since the 19th century, Mardi Gras is seen as a celebration of life through elaborate costumes adorned by capes and many-colored feathers.

Other cities along the Gulf Coast that were formerly French colonies started to have their own active Mardi Gras celebrations as well. In 1871, Galveston, Texas hosted festivities with the emergence of two Mardi Gras societies that acted as rivals: the Knight of Myth and the Knights of Momus.

While Mardi Gras in the United States resembles in the form of parades and extravagant parties with elaborate costumes, it doesn’t always look the same in other countries. Some countries celebrate folk elements while others celebrate it for its importance in the Anglican and Catholic heritages of the countries.

Germany celebrates carnival events one or two weeks before Ash Wednesday in a ceremony called Karneval. Ancient pagan traditions in Germany used wearing masks as a method of driving out evil spirits.

In Italy, Mardi Gras is referred to as Martedì Grasso, which means “Fat Tuesday” in Italian. One of the more notable celebrations occurs in Venice with the Venice Carnevale, where the city becomes decorated with color and lights with lots of different foods and drinks for partiers to try.

Portuguese immigrants brought Mardi Gras to Brazil in the 1830s, and it’s used as a weeklong party that mixes with African traditions as well. The samba parade is such a treasured component of the celebration that there are rival samba schools that compete against each other.

While the origins and traditional elements of Mardi Gras differ in each country, the similarity between all of the countries in the spirit of living in the moment and celebrating the good times of life.

It is important to stay safe during Mardi Gras. Participates in the celebration can stay safe by not drinking recklessly, remaining hydrated throughout festivities and keeping an eye out on the surrounding environment.