Happy Mardi Gras! You may be an active participant of this celebration, or you may also be like me and not really know where this day comes from.
On March 3, 1699, two French explorers named Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and Sieur de Bienville landed near present-day New Orleans, Louisiana. They had a celebration where they landed with their ships and called their landing place “Point du Mardi Gras”.
However, Mardi Gras has much deeper roots than that. It all started as a way for Christians to prepare for Lent. People would eat all of the foods they had in their homes that they would be fasting from in the weeks to come. This celebration followed those two French explorers to America on their expedition, but when the Spanish took control of Louisiana, celebrations were banned until Louisiana became a state in 1812.
In 1827, a group of college students in New Orleans donned colorful costumes and recreated the festivities they saw while they were visiting Paris. This became the first recorded Mardi Gras parade in the US. In 1857, a secret society of New Orleans businessmen called the Mistick Krewe of Comus, organized a torch-lit parade, complete with marching bands and rolling floats, which set the tone for the festivities we have come to love today. Other lasting traditions include throwing beads and other small trinkets and treasures, wearing masks, decorating floats, and eating King Cake; a braided cake, laced with cinnamon, and topped with icing colored with purple, green, and gold. There is also a small plastic baby in the cake, and the most popular tradition says that whoever receives the baby in their slice of cake has to supply the cake the next year, and possibly host the party.
The words Mardi Gras literally translate to Fat Tuesday; people would binge on rich, fatty foods, and it is celebrated the day before Ash Wednesday, which signals the start of Lent. The signature colors of Mardi Gras- purple, green, and gold- come from the Rex Krewe, which is one of the longest lasting Krewes of Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras is only a legal holiday in Louisiana, but many areas around the world celebrate the holiday and, in some places, the festivities last as long as an entire week.
Locally, Jefferson, Texas is our hub for all things Mardi Gras. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Krewe of Hebe. The theme of the celebrations for this year is “Games People Play” and it is all kicked off on Friday, March 1 at 7pm with the Krewe of Hebe’s Doo Dah Parade and a live band on the main stage. Events will be going on all weekend until Sunday night, with live music, parades, a children’s carnival, and the historical Jefferson riverboat tours and historical museum.