Respect the Culture, Not Just the Fun

A Look at The Histroy of Mardi Gras in New Orleans

Look and listen. Look as the decorative, bright red, orange, green, purple, and gold colors mixed together to form paper meche materials on the numerous floats that ride through the city. Look as the costumed Indians march down the streets with fireworks with flames in their eyes, sparking the crowd.

Look as the masked ball go-ers dance the night away daring to move in ways they probably wouldn’t if it weren’t for the false anonymity of the feathered disguise. Look as the multiple barbecues and gatherings pop up around the city filled with kids of all ages eating, laughing, and vying for the perfect spot to catch the beads. Now listen as they all yell, “Throw me something mister” hoping to fill their grocery bags with the “big beads,” the pearls, the medallions, and the beads that stretch out so long they have to be doubled on the neck to even walk.

Look as the debutantes, queens, and kings of krewes stand on the floats and wave their hands to the crowds, really looking for their friends so they can say “hi.”

Sound like Bourbon Street? Of course not, but in the minds of those not familiar with the city of New Orleans, Mardi Gras has been reduced to the last week of events, with tourists flashing and being drunk in public becoming the norm. Little do they see the culture behind the fun.

Mardi Gras came to New Orleans in 1699 through its French heritage, which had been celebrating the tradition since the Middle Ages. Yet, it really started in ancient Rome, when the Christian church decided to take the pagan holiday Lupercalia and combine it with Christianity, making it became a period of abandonment that preceded Lent. Once in New Orleans it grew to include krewes (organizations) which host parades and balls, develop official colors, and take on a distinct life of its own.

According to www.holidays.net, “Fat Tuesday,” the literal meaning for Mardi Gras is celebrated on the day before Ash Wednesday in the Catholic Church, yet the Carnival celebration actually starts on January 6th and Fat Tuesday can fall anywhere between February 3 and March 9 depending on the Lunar calendar used by the Catholic church to figure out the date for Easter. The official colors are purple, gold, and green representing justice, power, and faith respectively.

It is a time for fun, a time for celebration, a time to let all inhibitions go, but for many people who have roots in New Orleans, it represents so much more. It represents a tradition, a time to hang out with family and friends, and of course for those still in school, at least three days off.