Traditions are labeled as a belief or tradition passed down within a group or society, such as putting up a tree on Christmas or eating turkey on Thanksgivings. These traditions often hold symbolic meanings or a special significance within its origins. Much like most major holidays, Mardi Gras has its own set of traditions that has been passed down for generations. From food to Krewes and everything in between, the traditions of Mardi Gras are guaranteed to be a good time.
Considered one of the most well-known terms associated with Mardi Gras, Krewes are a social organization that hosts parades or balls for Carnival season. While some can be highly secretive and exclusive, Krewes can have open membership available for anyone who wishes to join. They can be formed by neighborhoods, general interest, and even involvement in the community.
Krewe members are assessed fees, ranging in prices determined by size, that are put towards paying each groups parade and ball for the year. These fees often determine if members have to work to build the floats themselves or if professionals can be hired instead. While “super krewes” do not possess a official definition, they typically over 1000 active members and maintain at least 500 riders for each carnival.
Where there is a krewe, there is usually royalty. Most krewes select a royal each year, consisting of a king, queen, dukes, and maids. The queen varies from krewe to krewe. In traditional all males krewe, the queen is usually a debutante; however, in all female krewes, a member is typically crowded as the queen.
“The King of Carnival” is anointed each year. Per tradition, the Krewe of Rex makes the selection, and the king is presented a symbolic key to the city by the mayor on Mardi Gras day.
With Carnival roots dating back as far as the Middle Ages, the first “official” Mardi Gras celebration took place in 1833. It all began when a wealthy landowner sponsored a “creole-style” celebration that was supervised by city officials. While they later became “official” celebrations, Mardi Gras celebrations have always possessed a rowdy and disorganized nature. By 1856, the modern parade era was born when the Mistick Krewe of Comus held a 2-float night parade.
The tradition of float riders throwing prizes, including candies and bon-bons and eventually glass beads, was enough to keep a large crowd coming out. As time went on, more krewes joined in the celebration, resulting in influx in parading in the 1950s. By 1958, parades moved in suburbs where that continued to pop up well into the 1970s.
A “throw” is used as a collective term often used to describe objects that are thrown from floats to parade-goers. Glass beads were commonly used as throws up until the 1960’s when they were later switched to less expensive and more durable plastic beads. The plastic beads lower price point allowed for float riders to purchase greater qualities, resulting in throws becoming more common and greater in numbers.
In the 1990s, larger and more elaborate beads became the most sought-after throws after parade goers lost interest in the cheaper, smaller beads. As a result, krewes began to create limited edition beads and plush toys that were unique to their specific krewe. Today, parade goers are sure to catch a wide variety of items, including LED- powered prizes and soft toys, by simply yelling the popular phrase, “throw me something mister”.
In 1872, The Krewe of Rex began the traditions of colors with their parade theme “Symbolism of Colors” as a way to honor the visiting Russian Grand Duke, Alexi Alexandrovich Romanov. It is at this time that the official colors of Mardi Gras were determined to be purple, green, and gold. Each color possessed its own meaning, and the people of New Orleans were asked to showcases one of the three. Purple was a symbol for justice. Green symbolized faith, and gold holds the meaning of power.
While it is not fully known why three colors or these colors specifically were chosen, many have made their own theory. Errol Flynn Laborde, a famous local historian, concluded that three colors were chosen to represent a kingdom. As a result, it followed the same color pattern like other major flags, such as the United States and Great Britain. As for the colors, Laborde believes it came down to symbolism, making purple and gold an obvious choice, and green the best last option.
While the tradition of wearing masks has dated back though different societies for centuries, Mardi Gras masks, like many other traditions, originated in ritual celebrations. Masks began as a way for its wearers to escape the tight constraints of society and social class. Carnival goers were given a new sense of freedom, allowing them to be who they wanted to be and interact with anyone despite class standings, by simply wearing a mask.
Today, masks are a major staple in Mardi Gras tradition. In fact, it is required by law for each float rider to wear a mask. On Fat Tuesday, everyone is allowed to wear masks if they please, adding to the air of excitement and magic that is seen throughout Mardi Gras traditions.
Starting on January 6th in honor of Epiphany, otherwise known as Twelfth Night, the tastiest Mardi Gras tradition begins. King Cakes are a sweet dough twisted into a round usually filled with cream or fruit and often topped with colored sugar or fruit. Typical Louisiana-styled cakes are usually decorated in well-known themed colors: purple, green, and gold.
Twelfth Night marks the arrival of the three wise men, or kings, who delivered gifts to the baby Jesus. It is because of this that a plastic baby is hidden within king cakes today, representing a nod to this story. The tradition of hiding a small plastic baby was popularized in the 1950’s by a commercial bakery by the name of McKenzie. According to Mardi Gras traditions, the person who finds the hidden baby in their piece must host the next year’s celebration.
Flambeaux is one Mardi Gras tradition that is believed to have blossomed well beyond its original practical purpose and into a revered art form. Flambeaux, or flaming torch, debut in 1857 as a way to light Carnival parades at night. Flambeaux began as a necessity, but soon evolved into a magical spectacle. Men carrying the torches began to dance while they would twirl and wave their sticks of fire, resulting in tips being thrown at these performers.
To keep this tradition alive, Mardi Gras krewes begin their parades with flambeaux out of respect for those that have come before them. While the torches have since received modern updates to keep their flames flowing all night, parade goers still offer tips to the performers.
Experience More Traditions
The deep-rooted traditions of New Orleans culture, especially those seen during Mardi Gras, is keeps visitors coming back year after year. A little taste of the New Orleans spirit is never enough. If you find yourself in town and are looking for a little adventure that features a unique and up-close experience with local wildlife, look no further that Cajun Encounters.
Cajun Encounters is a great family-friendly experience with enough excitement to peak your attention. 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 educational 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.