written by Jasmine Grace – High school Intern
Every year, millions flock to New Orleans in late winter to partake in the vibrant celebration of Mardi Gras. What many people don’t know is that Mardi Gras dates back thousands of years to ancient Rome and is celebrated worldwide. This year, however, things were a bit different. New Orleans hosted no parades, but that didn’t mean the festivities were cancelled. Many decorated their houses as parade floats to celebrate in a safer way. The new twist on this ancient holiday was called ‘Yardi Gras.’
The origins of Mardi Gras lie in the ancient city of Rome. Celebrations in late winter were already a holiday, so when Christianity spread to the Empire, leaders decided to keep those festivals in place and incorporate the old into the new. This took the form of a huge celebration before Lent. As Roman influences and Christianity spread through Europe, they brought these festivals with them. They became known as Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday.
The beginnings of Mardi Gras as we know it in New Orleans is debated, but most can agree that the first celebration was in either present-day Louisiana or Alabama. French colonists celebrated their Mardi Gras with street parties, masquerade balls, and extravagant dinners. These festivities were banned during the Spanish rule of New Orleans, but made a comeback when Louisiana became a U.S. territory in 1812.
There are a variety of traditions associated with Mardi Gras in New Orleans. These include throwing beads, wearing costume masks, eating King Cake, and hosting parades with incredibly decorated floats. Krewes are also a strong part of the celebrations. Krewes are social organizations that host a ball or put a float in a parade for Mardi Gras. Traditionally, these groups were strictly for men. But in 1941, the Krewe of Venus became the first women’s krewe to put on a parade. They met hostile crowds at first, some of whom even threw rotten vegetables at them. But these ladies were back at the next parade, and female krewes soon became a normal part of Mardi Gras. Soon more all-women krewes began to form. Then a number of krewes formed that were open to everyone. These krewes were instantly popular, and still are today.
Many places around the world, particularly those with large Roman Catholic populations, celebrate this holiday, though each place calls it by a different name and has its own unique traditions. In Brazil, Carnival blends African, native, and European cultures. The German celebration, called Karneval, Fastnacht, or Fasching, features parades and costume balls. It also includes a tradition in which women cut off men’s ties. Quebec City hosts the Winter Carnaval, famous for its ice sculptures. Venice is widely known for its masquerade balls and they call this holiday Carnivale. And in Denmark, children dress up in costumes and collect candy, similar to trick-or-treating on Halloween.
Mardi Gras goes by many names, and is celebrated in many ways. And while 2021 has been different from our normal in many ways, Mardi Gras prevails.