Although many present-day celebrations represent an integration of pagan and Christian traditions, Mardi Gras may be the most interesting – given that the two influences are still very distinct. The origin of the revelry dates back to ancient celebrations of spring and fertility, but when Rome adopted Christianity, the popular holiday collided with people of faith. In order to appease everyone, the wild debauchery of the early festivals became a preparation of sorts for Lent, the 40 days of penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Because Lent required fasting of all but fish, people would feast on all of the meat, eggs, milk, and cheese they had in their homes on the day prior to Ash Wednesday, inspiring the name “Mardi Gras”, translated “Fat Tuesday”. The word “carnival,”, also closely related to Mardi Gras festivities, is similarly rooted in Christian tradition. In early Latin, carnelevarium means to take away meat – hence the fasting of lent.
How Did it Get From Rome to New Orleans? The traditions eventually spread from Rome to France (hence the French name), Germany, Spain, and England. The first Mardi Gras on North American soil took place on March 3, 1699, when the French explorer Bienville landed on the shores of what is now modern-day Louisiana. As they landed on Fat Tuesday, the settlers held a small celebration right off the boat – and named the land Point du Mardi Gras. Bienville founded several French settlements, one which would eventually become New Orleans. Residents annually observed the holiday with lavish parties, masquerade balls and hedonistic banquets. When the Spanish took control of New Orleans, however, they placed a ban on the revelry, and it remained in force until 1812, when Louisiana achieved statehood.
On Mardi Gras in 1827, a group of students – who had been inspired on a trip to France – staged an impromptu parade, dancing through the streets in brightly colored costumes and started a renewed interest in the celebration. The first official New Orleans Mardi Gras parade occurred in 1937 and has continued ever since. In 1857, a secret society of New Orleans businessmen organized parade led by torchlight and showcasing extravagant floats and raucous music. Known as the Mistick Krewe of Comus, they began the custom of secret society krewes that are still the heart of the Mardi Gras processions. They throw beads, wear masks, ride floats – and eat King Cake!
Louisiana is the only state to consider Mardi Gras a legal holiday, but cities around the United States annually host carnival festivities and parades. Events throughout Pueblo are commonplace – but why not host your own party? Get some masquerade masks, a few strands of beads – and don’t forget the flowers! The floral designers at Campbell’s Flowers have just the right combination of purple, gold, and green to make your party official!