Purple, Gold, and Green

The celebration of Mardi Gras

Ellen Bain, Sports Editor

Many know of the holiday Mardi Gras, otherwise known as ‘Fat Tuesday’ or Carnaval, for the extravagant parades and the traditional masks. But, many don’t know the origins of the holiday. For the French culture in New Orleans, and all around the world, it is a major celebration dating back to the 1700s.

The first celebration of the holiday in New Orleans happened in 1699 when French explorers landed in the city. They held a small celebration and named the area they had landed “Point du Mardi Gras.” This started the celebration of the holiday in the Americas.

From that point on, New Orleans and other French settlements began celebrating the new-found holiday with street parties, lavish dinners, and even masked balls. It was a time for celebrating and indulging before the upcoming sacrifice of these luxuries on Ash Wednesday. In 1827, a group of young students danced through the streets wearing colorful garments, and ten years later the first official Mardi Gras Parade was born.

Today, as many as 1.4 million people gather in the streets of New Orleans to celebrate this tradition. Though many see the traditions of Mardi Gras to be a time of celebration and partying, it is actually a religious holiday. French teacher Brayton Mendenhall explains this idea in more depth.

“Mardi Gras is the celebration of the last day before Ash Wednesday, which marks the Catholic season of Lent,” he said. “During Lent, Christians who observe [the holiday] make some sacrifice for 40 days before Easter in order to symbolize the 40 days that Christ spent fasting in the desert. Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, was the day when people would eat and drink and celebrate before fasting began on Ash Wednesday.”

As mentioned, Mardi Gras is a time of indulgence. There are many traditions of the holiday set in place to represent this concept. One of the most popular of the traditions is the Mardi Gras parade.

Though the actual holiday falls on a Tuesday, celebrations can start as much as a month in advance. In the 12-day period before the holiday, there are about 70 parades that take place. These parades include elaborate floats, costumes, and decor, all being in the traditional colors of Mardi Gras: purple, gold, and green.

A famous part of the parades is the beads. These plastic necklaces, as well as other small gifts, are thrown from the floats to people in the surrounding crowds. This tradition dates back to the 1800s, when a man supposedly dressed as a Santa Claus figure and decorated himself with beads, and tourists began to pick up this tradition.

Another important part of the holiday is the food, specifically the King cake. It is a cinnamon cake in the shape of a ring, often decorated with traditional Mardi Gras colors. But, inside the cake is a twist.

“There are many Mardi Gras traditions, [including] the King Cake, which is a cinnamon cake with a baby Jesus inside. The person who finds the baby in his/her piece is the ‘Mardi Gras King’ for the day, and they are expected to throw the next year’s party,” Mendenhall explained.

Though the holiday is typically celebrated in Catholic-based areas, some of the most popular being in Rio de Janeiro, Quebec, and of course New Orleans, the spirit of the holiday can be celebrated by people everywhere. So, on Tuesday, March 5, be sure to wear your purple, gold, and green beads to honor the celebration!

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