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How did Mardi Gras begin?
How did Mardi Gras begin?

In 1699, Mardi Gras was first mentioned in North America. A French explorer camped by the Mississippi River, fifty miles south of today's New Orleans, named Pierre le Moyne, Sieur d'Iberville, first brought the term to the United States.

Pierre knew that in his native country, France, March 3rd was being observed as a holiday, so he named the spot he was camped on Point du Mardi Gras.

By the 1700s, Mardi Gras was celebrated in both Mobile, Alabama, and in New Orleans, Louisiana. Somewhat more sedate then today's festivities, the day was celebrated with private balls. In both cities random streets played hosts to costumed citizens.

The first documented procession for Mardi Gras took place in 1837, but it was very different then the parades seen there today. The first modern-styled parade didn't occur until 1857, and was arranged by a group called the Mystik Krewe of Comus. The floats were lit by torches and depicted scenes from mythology and literature. After the American Civil War ended in 1865, more krewes sprung up adding to the number of floats and balls.

Today's celebrations are not that different from the ones in the 1860s. There are still parades full of floats and costumed people, and there are still balls held each year. In fact, the celebration is so famous it has become major tourist attraction for New Orleans drawing in millions of people from around the world for Fat Tuesday.

Mardi Gras Terms:

Krewe - a general name for the organizations and clubs that take part in the festivities. They are all non-profit organizations.

King Cake - an oval, sugared cake; sometimes with a plastic baby baked inside. The person that gets the baby is the "king" and has to buy the next round of cakes.

Throws - inexpensive trinkets thrown from floats. This sets Mardi Gras apart from other parades.

Did you know?

    » Each year 750,000 King Cakes are sold in New Orleans, while 50,000 more are shipped by over-night mail to other states.
    » According to the New Orleans Sanitation Department, before recycling programs began 2,000 plus tons of debris from the last 12 days of parades was removed in the late 1980s.
    » The celebration brings in $840 million in revenues for New Orleans alone.
    » The official colors of Mardi Gras: purple (justice), green (faith), and gold (power) were picked in 1872, but weren't given their meanings until 1892.
    » The first "throw" took place in 1871, when someone dressed as Santa Claus handed out gifts to the crowd from the 24th float in the Twelfth Night Revelers parade.
    » The most used anthem of Mardi Gras is the song "If Ever I Cease to Love."

If you go:

» The phrase to get a throw is "Hey, Mister, throw me something."

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