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As Christmas ends, the true festive season has only just begun in New Orleans. Considered a major holiday, Mardi Gras is celebrated throughout the whole state of Louisiana. Much like New Orleans, the history of Mardi Gras is deep and intricate, making it as interesting as it is colorful. With its vibrant purple green and gold colors, notable Mardi Gras days like Fat Tuesday, and local desserts such as the King cake, Mardi Gras is a holiday you wouldn’t want to miss!
Mardi Gras History
The origin of Mardi Gras in New Orleans goes back further than the Big Easy itself, tracing back to medieval Europe and traveling through Venice and Rome in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was around this time that “Beouf Gras”, otherwise known as “the fatted calf”, and the celebrations that surround it made their way to France.
In March of 1699, Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville, a French-Canadian explorer, arrived at a plot of land just 60 miles south of New Orleans. Upon arrival, Bienville and his men realized it was the eve of the well-known holiday, resulting in him naming the land “Pointe du Mardi Gras”.
By the 1730s, Mardi Gras was an openly celebrated holiday in the city of New Orleans. The parades, however, varied from how we know them today. In the early 1740s, lavish society balls were established by Marquis de Vaudreuil, the governor of Louisiana. These became the blueprint for the modern New Orleans Mardi Gras season.
By the arrival of the 1830s, New Orleans had begun the tradition of street processions and maskers with horseback riders and carriages. It is around this time that “flambeaux”, the use of gaslight torches, became known. Flambeaux was used as a way to light the path for krewe members, adding an air of excitement and romance to the festivities.
Twelfth Night Revelers and Their Impact
In 1870, the Twelfth Night Revelers was formed in New Orleans, making it the second-oldest Carnival organization. TNR hosted its first parade and ball on January 6, 1870, and continued until 1876 when it became a ball-only krewe. It is believed by many that the Twelfth Night Revelers introduced many present-day Carnival customs.
One major contribution attributed to TNR is throws. In 1871, The Twelfth Night Revelers showcased a float with a rider dressed as Santa Claus, tossing trinkets into the crowd.
This cemented them in history as the first recorded throws. As a result, they helped introduce and popularize this now well-known Mardi Gras tradition in the United States. The Twelfth Nights Revelers are also believed to be the first to introduce debutantes as the queens and maids in its royal courts.
After the Twelfth Night Revelers, newspapers began announcing Mardi Gras events in advance, and it was not long before the “Carnival Edition” was produced soon after. This edition included lithographs of the already-premiered float designs, since they were kept a secret until the procession. These visual aspects began small with hardly any details, but later became larger with more detail and added color in 1886.
These intricate float and costume designs were straight from the imagination of Carlotta Bonnecase, Charles Briton, and B.A. Wikstrom and brought to life by Georges Soulie, a Parisian paper-mâché artist. Soulie was responsible for creating all of the Carnival’s floats and processional outfits for 40 years.
If Mardi Gras Parades bring you to New Orleans and have you stumbling to catch floats in the French Quarter, don’t be afraid to stop and take a look around. Looking for a little adventure that features a unique and up-close experience with local wildlife? Cajun Encounters is exactly what you have been searching for.
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