Mardi Gras – History and Tradition

Mardi Gras is an interesting festival to say the least. Even if you are not intrigued by the event itself you may still wonder what it is all about. The mix of European culture and southern soul makes for a delicious mix of exciting events and fun traditions. So, why is this New Orleans parade such a spectacle and what makes it special? Here are a few facts about Mardi Gras that could help you to understand.


The Mardi Gras parade was not organized until 1857 by six men calling themselves the Mistick Krew of Comus. On the night of Mardi Gras the men Paraded around town by torchlight on two floats pulled by mules. This spectacle, obviously not being enough, was enhanced upon. Up-keeping the traditions of their Masonic culture the Mistick Krew of Comus created a secret society to join in their revelry. 3,000 invitations were sent out to New Orleans high society making it a great success and a long lasting tradition.


The original Mardi Gras celebrations occurred as early as the third century A.D. by emperor Aurelius. Aurelius and Mardi Gras are why the Christian holiday Christmas takes place on the 25th of December. Mardi Gras stems from European culture and pagan religions. Comus was the son of the Wine God Bacchus. Comus was comical and fun loving, which explains the jester like masks of the Mardi Gras Celebration.


The masked balls of Mardi Gras originate from the Italian Renaissance. The masked balls spread from Italy to England, France and even New Orleans. Orlenians called these masked parties “les bals des rois” in regards to the kings that the events were meant to celebrate. Masks became popular at early celebrations because the people could escape the restraints of their class for one evening. During “Fat Tuesday” Masks are legal to be worn in New Orleans, though shop owners may ask you to remove the masks to enter their place of business. Removing of your mask is expected for the safety of the shop owners business.

The King

The initial King of Mardi Gras was supposedly Grand Duke Alexis. After the Civil was the Duke’s trip was organized by American businessmen to lure tourists back to New Orleans. The King of Mardi Gras is named Rex and was first crowned in 1872. Now the king of Mardi Gras is selected randomly to give the populous someone to cheer for from New Orleans high society. The Rex Organization makes this random selection and the King is given a symbolic key to the city from the New Orleans Mayor. Whoever finds the prize in their cakes is made king of the celebration. The cakes are now staples of the Mardi Gras Celebration in New Orleans. The modern version of the cake is crown shaped, decorated ornately with sugars, and made of brioche. King cake parties are a tradition in New Orleans. Whoever pulls the bean or other token from their piece of cake is expected to throw the king cake party the following weekend.

Why the Trinkets?

Small trinkets were initially distributed to represent the small gifts given by the three Kings. The Royal colored beads were meant to represent the goodies dispersed by the Lord of Misrule. Coconuts are even handed out at the New Orleans Mardi Gras Festival and have been since 1910.

Whether you are interested in Mardi Gras for its history, cultural relevance, or just to have a good time, you are bound to have a wonderful time. Remember to party responsibly.

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