Since Presley decided on a Mardi Gras-themed birthday this year, I found myself researching a lot of its history and traditions. I thought this would be a fitting time to share some of what I learned. Today is the Thursday before Fat Tuesday and therefore today the festivities in New Orleans are ramping up for the culmination of Carnival: Mardi Gras.
The Carnival Season officially begins on January 6 every year. It is the start of the Feast of Epiphany – set by the Catholic Church as the start to a period of feasting before the fasting period of Lent. Mardi Gras literally translates to Fat Tuesday, the last day of feasting before Ash Wednesday and the official start of Lent. Lent lasts approximately 6 weeks, leading up to Easter. There are plenty of unofficial parades that start rolling as early as January 6th. These early parades in the Carnival season usually fall on weekends only. The “official” parade season kicks off the second Friday before Mardi Gras (February 17th this year) when the schedule fills weekdays as well and the Uptown night parades begin. This year Fat Tuesday is on February 28th, and the parties and parades will kick into high gear on the preceding Thursday (today).
The first Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans was February 24, 1857. Which coincidentally is tomorrow’s date as well as my sister’s birthday. Happy birthday Kiki! The Mistick Krewe of Comus staged it. They were Carnival’s first secret society and the first to present a themed parade with floats and follow it with a tableaux (theatrical scenes staged by krewe members) ball. Carnival balls are private formal affairs and are by invitation only. Masked balls in New Orleans pre-date the first parade by more than 100 years.
Mock royalty reigns over each ball, where a king, queen, maids, and dukes are presented. While most krewes have a king, “Rex” is considered the King of New Orleans Carnival since 1872 when the Rex krewe organized New Orleans first daytime Mardi Gras parade. Rex selected what would become the “official” colors of Mardi Gras for this daytime parade. Purple represents justice, green stands for faith, and gold signifies power.
“Masking” (wearing a mask to conceal one’s identity) dates back to Roman times when assuming false identities for carnival was a common practice. According to law in New Orleans, all float riders must be masked at all times. Masking is a great way to join in the fun and should be considered a must if you are in New Orleans for Fat Tuesday (it is the only day that “street masking” is legal).
From all my research, I have concluded that perhaps Mardi Gras in New Orleans should be added to my bucket list and perhaps even the “Family Bucket List”. It seems like a once in a lifetime experience and all of the New Orleans travel websites make a point of explaining how to make it a “kid friendly” event. So maybe I’ll do a little more research and next year we’ll be blogging about Mardi Gras first hand from New Orleans.