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Mardi Gras: The history and traditions behind the colorful New Orleans’ festivity

Mardi Gras carnival is a historical celebration with a religious meaning behind it. Here are some interesting facts you should know before enjoying this year’s parade.

Everybody knows how good this carnival gets each year in New Orleans, and for ages, it’s been an event that has been added to a lot of people’s bucket lists. We’ve seen it portrayed in lots of movies, series, or even books, and all we hear is how amazing it is to experience it in its home state, Louisiana. We have made ourselves an idea of what it is, looks like and, what people do to follow this tradition, but we can still be missing a great part of the story behind the colors, the parade, and the party that definitely deserves to be known.

This carnival is full of colors, costumes, fun activities, culture, and most importantly, great history that follows each of its elements with as much importance as it once had before. So if you thought that this event was more about fun and less about history or religion, then its origins will surprise you in a way that will allow you to enjoy this year’s carnival from an entirely different perspective.

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What is the origin of the Mardi Gras?

Mardi Gras is the French translation of Fat Tuesday, a Christian holiday that takes place every Tuesday before Ash Wednesday and commemorates the time before Lent when people would binge on all the fatty foods that they would no longer be allowed to eat for the next 40 days of fasting and “sacrifice” before Jesus’ Resurrection.

It all began in Rome in early Medieval times when Christianity was just starting to settle within people’s beliefs. Religious leaders needed a way to easily instruct their new practices into people’s everyday lives. With this in mind, they took advantage of their old pagan celebrations where people used to include lots of food and drinking and turned it into a religious event right before the liturgical time began.

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Mardi Gras’ history in the United States

Thanks to the colonization process, a lot of traditions migrated to America and became part of the culture that we know and celebrate today. It was a French-Canadian explorer, named Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville, who, in March of 1699, arrived near what we know today as New Orleans and decided to name his camp as “Pointe du Mardi Gras.” The name was a homage to the celebration that he knew should be happening that same day back in France, making it the first Mardi Gras celebration in America.

Then in 1763, New Orleans was taken under Spanish domain and that put a pause to this celebration for quite some time until Louisiana became a U.S. state in 1812. Since then, the Mardi Gras has been celebrated in this city every year in different ways. It has only been postponed or canceled a few times in history: during the Civil War, WWI and WWII, the 1870s yellow fever outbreak, and, in the last couple of years, due to the COVID pandemic.

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How is the Mardi Gras carnival celebrated in New Orleans?

Mardi Gras activities begin very early in the morning with the Zulu and Rex parade. From there, people go through their day visiting different bars, restaurants, and admiring all the beauty of the city during this holiday. You can spend hours and hours walking around without getting bored, submerging yourself in all this colorful event, and finishing your day off watching the King and Queen’s dance at the municipal auditorium of the city. The festivity then officially concludes when the horseback-riding police squad begins to clear the parade starting from Bourbon street and announcing the beginning of Lent.

Most people who love living this experience to the fullest wear amazing costumes in green, purple, or gold. If you’re not that into costumes you can also enjoy all the food, play some music, walk between the crows, and attend at least one Mardi Gras ball. The best advice we can give you is: don’t miss any chance to get as many souvenirs from the parades as possible.

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