Get ready for Mardi Gras. The season began with the Twelfth Night parties last weekend where Krewes from the area got together for a party to begin the season. This series of articles will explore the history of Mardi Gras as well as the events in the Shreveport/Bossier area.
MARDI GRAS HISTORY
When you think of Mardi Gras, what comes to mind? New Orleans, floats, beads, costumes, queens and kings, masks, king cakes, parades, and revelry, no doubt. Let me tell you what I know about Mardi Gras. I’ve lived in Louisiana for twelve years and can sum it up in one word, PARTY! OK, that’s not really true, but it comes very close. In truth, Mardi Gras itself is a one day holiday and is on the calendar as the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, but the entire season has evolved to be called Mardi Gras by most revelers. It, however, is not the entire season as we like to think; the season is called Carnival, and is celebrated worldwide in cities such as Nice, France; Cologne, Germany and Rio de Janeiro.
Carnival begins on the Feast of Epiphany or the twelfth night (January 6th) and ends at midnight on Fat Tuesday, determined by the date of Easter. It celebrates the arrival of the three kings at Jesus’ birthplace, thus ending the Christmas season. The gifts that the kings brought with them may be the reason for the gifts of the Mardi Gras season, trinkets such as cups, beads and doubloons. But the tradition of throwing trinkets during parades began in the 1870’s by the Twelfth Night Revelers and remains a time honored tradition in New Orleans. The parade goers traditionally scream “Throw Me Something, Mister” to plead for the trinkets, and in New Orleans and other cities, women often bare their breasts to show themselves deserving and to garner the attention of the throwers.
Not surprisingly, Mardi Gras has its roots in paganism of the ancient Greeks and Romans celebrating fertility rites, but it was adopted by the Catholic church as a way to prepare the people for Lent. The leaders of the church quickly realized that it would be easier to allow some type of traditional festivals rather than abolish them altogether, while still bringing the people to Christianity. So they acquiesced to this period of raucousness.
During Medieval festivals, participants donned costumes, and that tradition continues today. The first American Mardi Gras was celebrated near New Orleans in 1899, therefore, New Orleans became the obvious city to host modern day celebrations, and they continue to be the main American host city for parties and parades. But, the celebrations are taking hold across the United States and moving to northern Louisiana and east and west across the Gulf states. The larger Louisiana cities such as Lafayette, Baton Rouge and Shreveport are all areas with full Mardi Gras schedules. It should be noted that the city does not put on the events, they just issue the parade permits. Events are put on and funded by private organizations, called Krewes. These Krewes select royalty, hold balls (usually closed to the public), and often organize the massive parades.
Purple, Green and Gold symbolizing Justice, Faith and Power are the official colors of Mardi Gras and were selected by the Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff of Russia when he visited New Orleans in 1872. A little known fact is that the colors he chose impacted the colors of two arch rival Louisiana College football teams. The stores stocked up on fabric for the official Mardi Gras colors, and Louisiana State University purchased a large amount of the purple and gold colors leaving only the green in stock. Tulane University then chose the green for their uniforms, and today their colors are green and white.
The King Cake, on the other hand, has its roots in the fact that the wise men brought gifts to baby Jesus. The King Cake is a sweet yeast cake covered in poured sugar in the Mardi Gras colors and usually has a plastic baby hidden inside. Long ago the queen was selected by which lady found the baby in the cake. In modern day, the tradition is that the person who finds the baby has to buy the next King Cake or host the next King Cake party.
As for floats and parades; in 1833 a wealthy plantation owner near New Orleans solicited money to help finance an organized Mardi Gras celebration, and in 1837 the first parade was held. But, it wasn’t until two years later in 1839 that one single float rolled through the streets of New Orleans during Mardi Gras and thus began the tradition of floats in the parades.
You can follow the SHREVEPORT DAY TRIPS EXAMINER on Twitter and Facebook! Also, click “Subscribe” at the top of the page to receive updates on events, news, and information.