The Unique Traditions Of Mardi Gras

Brilliance | Dec. 08, 2017

Laissez les bons temps rouler! For non-French speakers, that's "let the good times roll," a common celebratory refrain during Mardi Gras. The worldwide holiday, which falls on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday and culminates an entire celebratory season, is full of quirky and surprising traditions.

First We Feast On King Cake

You probably know Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) for its debauchery, but did you know that said debauchery is based in religion? For centuries, Shrove Tuesday has been a night of revelry before the Christian practice of Lent. The season starts on or after Three Kings Day in January and lasts until midnight the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. So before you fast, it's time to catch some beads, eat some king cake and be merry.

While New Orleans, Louisiana is known to host the biggest celebrations, the first organized Mardi Gras began when French explorers Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville and Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville brought their Catholic traditions to Mobile, Alabama in the late 1600s. The holiday isn't restricted to these regions, however—Mardi Gras is celebrated across the globe and is synonymous to "Carnival" in countries like Brazil.

Mardi Gras traditions can be curious. Take king cake. This fancy braided pastry dates back to the Middle Ages for Three Kings Day, or Twelfth Night, when gifts were brought to baby Jesus. King cakes come in all different forms, but the traditional cakes use a Danish pastry recipe that's laced with cinnamon and adorned with purple, green and gold icing. Starting in New Orleans in the 1940s, a plastic baby was placed inside the cakes to represent baby Jesus (so, watch your bite!)—if you get the baby, it's often said to be good luck. Of course, then you're also responsible for supplying the next king cake.

Throw Me Something, Mister!

The colors of Mardi Gras were established with the introduction of two more notable traditions. In 1872, Russian Grand Duke Alexis visited New Orleans. As a result, one of the most famous Mardi Gras krewes (private Mardi Gras societies), Krewe of Rex, was created to show off New Orleans' most prominent citizens. The group adapted the colors of Duke Alexi's royal house for the beads that were thrown from parade floats. Purple stands for justice, green for faith, and gold for power. While the original beads were made of glass, Mardi Gras revelers now collect creative plastic beads from more than 70 krewes' parades in New Orleans alone.

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