How much do you know about the Mardis Gras carnival?

We may collectively know the day best as Pancake Day, possibly by its more religious title – Shrove Tuesday or even Fat Tuesday, but were you aware that it is also Mardi Gras?

The Mardi Gras Festival and Parades originate from medieval Europe. The event in New Orleans was encouraged by French Canadian explorer, Jean Baptist, Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville naming a plot nearby Pointe du Mardi Gras on the 2nd March 1699The first official reference to the carnival was in a report to the Spanish Colonial Governing Body in 1781.

Zulu crew float at Mardi Gras Carnival New Orleans. Jester theme design.

Zulu Crewe Performing in Mardi Gras Parade – History.com

 

The carnival covers the Christian fasting period from the 6th January which is biblically the 12th Night: when Jesus first showed himself to the three wise men. The feast of Epiphany – and now the Mardi Gras Festival continues until Mardi Gras on Fat Tuesday, the final day before Ash Wednesday, Lent.

Many traditions have continued since the initial parades. Until 1861 a huge bull’s head that took 16 men to push through the streets was done so in order to signify the meat fast. Today a love bull is walked through the crowds instead. Many local, non-essential business close for the parade.

Float representing sacred bull at Mardi Gras Parade.

Bull sculpture paraded through the streets of New Orleans – Mardi Gras – Execucarearc

 

In contrast in 1892, REX, the King of the carnival appointed a color scheme and meanings for them: Purple for justice; green for faith and gold for power and they continue to be the key colours today. Many incorporate these colours into there costumes for the event. Many also wear the beads that have been thrown by the Throwers along with trinkets – a tradition dating back to 1870.

Lady in costume for Mardi Gras Carnival. Wearing purple, green and gold, the colours of the parade and the trophy beads, dancing along to the celebration.

An example of Mardi Gras carnival costumes – Google Images 

 

The parade also features Flambeaux named after the French word flambe which translates as flaming torch. This traditional procession of flaming torches originally began with wooden staves wrapped in rags and eventually evolved into oil-burning lanterns. Today LED light shows also occur.

Traditional Flambeaux procession of flaming torches at Mardi Gras.

Flambeaux at the Mardi Gras Parade – Mardi Gras 

 

The most traditional food of the festival is the King Cakes. Each of the cakes has a model of a baby within to represent the introduction of the wise men to baby Jesus. These models were originally made of precious materials such as gold but later became a more readily available and much cheaper alternative, plastic. The cake itself was originally a dough ring with a small amount of decoration but have since become a lot more decorative with many varieties of frosting. The belief is that whoever receives the slice holds the next party.

King Cake, traditional dessert party food for the annual event. The Mardi Gras carnival cake holds a baby inside and is decorated with traditional colours

King Cake – Mardi Gras – Celebrate Magazine 

 

In addition to the parade, a formal and private Ball is also held for the Krewe. These dinner and dance events are planned meticulously by the King and Queen of the festival who remain anonymous until the great unmasking at the Ball. Invitations to this prestigious events are greatly desired. The physical invites were originally die cut and printed in Paris and even today are regarded as great pieces of art by many collectors.

Picture of king and queen of the mardi gras carnival at the parade's ball. Dressed in carnival costume with traditional colours.

King and Queen of Mardi Gras at 24th Annual Mardi Gras Ball – Keesler

 

Finally, we cant conclude the article without mentioning the coconut. During Mardi Gras, this fruit is considered as a local treasure as it is hard to come by. Many will do anything for the large seed.

Coconuts from the Mari Gras carnival. The fruit is decorated with traditional imagery.

Decorated Coconuts for Mardi Gras – Village Living Online

 

 

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