Mardi Gras dates back thousands of years to pagan celebrations of spring and fertility, When Rome adopted Christianity, the popular local traditions were integrated into the new faith. The wild revelry of Mardi Gras thus became a prelude to Lent, the 40 days of penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. On the day before Ash Wednesday, revelers would feast on all of the meat, eggs, milk, and cheese they had in their homes to prepare for weeks of fasting, inspiring the name Fat Tuesday.
Did You Know? Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday.” The word “carnival,” likely also comes from the custom of fasting, as in Medieval Latin, carnelevarium means to take away meat.
The traditions eventually spread from Rome to France, Germany, Spain, and England. The first Mardi Gras in North America took place on March 3, 1699, when the French explorer Bienville came ashore in the land that is now Louisiana, just south of the area that would become New Orleans. As it was Fat Tuesday, they held a small celebration and named the land Point du Mardi Gras. For several decades, the French settlements began celebrating the holiday by staging lavish parties, masked balls and banquets. When the Spanish took control of New Orleans, however, they outlawed these rowdy traditions, and the ban remained in place until 1812, when Louisiana became a state.
On Mardi Gras in 1827, a group of students put on vividly colored costumes and danced through the streets of New Orleans, in an impromptu parade similar to the revelry they had seen on a visit to France. A decade later, the first official New Orleans Mardi Gras parade took to the streets, and they haven’t looked back since. In 1857, a secret society of New Orleans businessmen called the Mistick Krewe of Comus organized a procession, complete with floats and marching bands, and illuminated by torches. Since that time, krewes are a staple of the Carnival scene throughout Louisiana. Other traditions and customs inherent in any true Mardi Gras celebration include throwing beads, wearing masks, decorating floats and eating King Cake.
Louisiana remains the only state to declare Mardi Gras a legal holiday, but cities across the country host carnival festivities and parades. Events throughout Westchester and New York are commonplace, but why not have your own party? The floral designers at Blossom Flower Shop love arranging the purple, gold, and green colors of the Mardi Gras arrangements – and you’ll have the festive decor every party needs!