While parades are one of the most known Mardi Gras traditions, grand and spectacular Mardi Gras balls hold a special place in Mardi Gras tradition. A ball is a formal party hosted by a specific krewe as a celebration for their members. These events often include costumes, dancing, music, food, and anything else needed to have a night fit for royalty.
In the 19th century, the elite of Carnival organizations began searching for a way to evoke a world of romance and chivalry during a time of reconstruction. As a result, these members began acting out aristocratic fantasies based on the style of royal courts and palaces of Old Europe, resulting in the creation of Mardi Gras balls.
Mardi Gras balls often involve rituals and intricate codes that have been passed down through history. The majority of Mardi Gras balls are private affairs, often needing invitations in order to attend. Original invitations were die-cut and printed in Paris, making them a hot commodity to the point that some prominent figures do not even make the cut, including governors. Today, invitations can be considered valuable works of art, resulting in colorful and beautiful designs often being framed as collectors’ items.
Mardi Gras Balls can be considered social climbing events, resulting in a lavish affair. Ball gowns are a must for women attendees. Debutantes, making their formal introduction into society, hoped to be issued a “call-out” card. These cards result in a dance with an attending male member.
The highlight of the evening includes the cutting of the Mardi Gras cake, otherwise known as the Gateau de Rois. Tradition states that whoever finds the bean in their piece of cake would have to host the next ball. Mardi Gras balls are always full of good food and good times.
It is believed that the first ball was held by the Mistick Krewe of Comus in the year of 1857. This ball was held at the Gaiety Theatre, later called the Varieties Theatre, up until 1868 when it moved to the new Varieties Theatre.
The first Krewe of Rex balls began in 1873 and were held in the Exposition Hall until 1906. In 1907, Rex began to hold its ball at The Athenaeum; this tradition continued until 1929. This ball marks the only appearance of Enrico Caruso, legendary tenor, in June of 1920.
In the later years, Comus began to hold its balls at the French Opera House. In 1882, the Rex Krewe visited Comus near midnight, resulting in a custom that is still seen today. It is believed that approximately 137 balls are held each year, always beginning on January 6th with the Twelfth Night Ball.
Tableau Vivant, otherwise known as “living picture”, is known as setting a group of costumed individuals in carefully arranged static poses within a set and its related props. It often serves as a way to illustrate popular mythological stories, paintings, and even known events, including archetypal, classical, and historical.
On February 2nd of 1857, the best of Louisiana’s society gathered at the Gaiety Theatre anxiously waiting for the start of the tableau ball. Its grandeur and vivid imagination would soon stun a city already accustomed to the most fabulous of balls. The Mistik Krewe of Comus presented its guests with four tableaux: Tartus, The Expulsion, The Conference of Satan and Beelzebub, and a bare stage. Each tableaux showcased a visual depiction of a mythological story.
While the tradition of tableau has slowly been lost since the uprising of other popular, more sought-after Mardi Gras traditions, The New Orleans Society of Tableau Vivant still pays homage to this creative tradition.
Mardi Gras Balls still play a major role in the tradition of Mardi Gras today. With the introduction of the infamous COVID-19 virus, however, these special events have been put on hold until further notice.
New Orleans is still offering attractions that are sure to keep those who are missing Mardi Gras entertained. For those looking for a little adventure that features a unique and up-close experience with local wildlife, Cajun Encounters is the best place to start.
Guests are able to experience the beauty of one of the most untarnished ecosystems in America first-hand, and, if that is not enough, there are plenty of educational opportunities to learn about the plants and animals that inhabit it. Guests are guaranteed the best experience possible with trained experts as their guides. Cajun Encounters is working hard to ensure not only the satisfaction but also the safety of its visitors by implementing proper COVID-19 protocol.
Be sure to book in advance to ensure your spot. You do not want to miss out on this incredible experience!