Mardi Gras

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Mardi Gras can be defined as a traditional fatted-calf (Boeuf Gras) celebration. Its origins can be traced to medieval Europe—traversing through Venice and Rome during the 17th and 18th centuries and on to the House of the Bourbons in France. The traditional revelry then migrated to France’s colonies. Later, Christian traditions were incorporated into the Mardi Gras traditions.

The established celebrations in New Orleans in 1718 by French-Canadian explorer Le Moyne de Bienville marked the beginning of the Mardi Gras fete in America. His men realized that it was the eve of a festive holiday during his expedition in Fort Louis de la Mobile in 1702. These celebrations have since undergone major various transitions and have a colossal following of many people. The holiday was celebrated as a whole season, not just a day known as Fat Tuesday that falls between February 3 and March 9. Carnival celebrations began on the Twelfth Night, The Feast of Epiphany that went through midnight on Fat Tuesday, which is a day before Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is preferably 46 days before Easter, and Fat Tuesday is always the day before Ash Wednesday.

Transformational changes to Mardi Gras began to evolve with the establishment of secret societies. The secret society became known as the “Boeuf Gras Society” from 1711 to 1861. New Orleans honored Mardi Gras with open celebrations that were not similar to modern-day celebrations. During the early 1740s, Louisiana’s governor, Marquis de Vaudreuil, introduced elegant society balls that became the hallmark for the New Orleans Mardi Gras balls of today. During this period of time, the Mardi Gras clubs and carnival organizations were formed in New Orleans. These included the Perseverance Benevolent & Mutual Aid Association and Twelfth Night Revelers, among others.

A rediscovery of this event can be elaborated by a summary of five major themes: the history, procession parades, throwing of balls, carriages, and the masking of horseback riders. Artifacts from Mardi Gras have been stored in museums in the state of Louisiana. The traditions of Mardi Gras are symbolic; for example, the throwing of colored beads signifies the show of respect to the King of Carnival, called the “REX.” The colors of the balls or beads were significant: purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power. The Rex was nominated by celebrants every year of the festival, supposedly choosing a prominent man who was elected to be the hero of the fete. Toward the close of the 1830s, street parades and processions with masked people in carriages and on horseback celebrated in New Orleans. Gaslight torches, popularly called “flambeaux,” illuminated the way for revelers during the dark nights that exhibited an exciting air of romance and festivity. Dazzling floaters called tableaux cars and masked balls injected magic and mystery to New Orleans festivities. Members of the Krewe (revelers) chose to remain anonymous by masking, a tradition that modern gays and lesbians of today have jealously preserved over the years to conceal their identities. Many of these revelers permit attendance by invitation only.

The celebrations are marked with dancing, painting, fashion shows, art, heroism, and diverse cultural entertainment practices. Mardi Gras has since become one big holiday in New Orleans that is about excitement, picnics, parades, floats, and music. The signing of the “Mardi Gras Act” by Governor Warmoth in 1875 made Fat Tuesday a legal holiday in Louisiana, which it still is today.

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