- History: Catholic holiday before Lent
- Traditions: Costumes, parades, indulgence
- Dates: 47 days before Easter
- Frequency: Annual
- Popular Foods: King cakes, gumbo, beans and rice
- Location: Two of the largest are New Orleans and Mobile
- Colors: Purple, green and gold
- Season: Carnival season
- Decorations: Masks, beads, feathers
- Other Names: Fat Tuesday, Pancake Day, Shrove Tuesday
- Origins: Mardi Gras Has Pagan Origins
- Holiday: The Pope Made Mardi Gras a Holiday
- Location: New Orleans Wasn’t the First Mardi Gras Location
- Food: Mardi Gras Has a Sweet Side
- Traditions: Masks Are Required During Mardi Gras Parades
- Colors: Each Mardi Gras Color Is Symbolic
- Date: Easter Determines the Date of Mardi Gras
- Traditions: Mardi Gras Royalty Changes Yearly
- Popularity: Mardi Gras Is Celebrated All Over the World
- Traditions: Mardi Gras Is Organized by Krewes
- Hurricane Katrina Did Not Stop Mardi Gras
- Mardi Gras Is Just One Part of Carnival
- It’s Not Just Beads That Are Thrown During Parades
- Mardi Gras Is a Thriving Business
- Mardi Gras Has Been Canceled Before
- Super Gras Changed the Schedule
Mardi Gras Has Pagan Origins
Mardi Gras facts reveal that the celebration may have its roots in the pagan spring festivals that date back thousands of years. The ancient Roman festivals of Saturnalia and Lupercalia both included traditions of feasting and masquerades, which are main components of the modern Mardi Gras festivities that we know today. Other popular Mardi Gras practices include dancing, parades and sports competitions. Many treat it as a day on which to indulge in alcohol as well. It is often considered the last day to indulge in guilty pleasures as it is the day before Ash Wednesday, which marks the season of Lent.
The Pope Made Mardi Gras a Holiday
Mardi Gras only become a holiday in 1582, when Pope Gregory XIII placed it on his Gregorian calendar on the day before Ash Wednesday. The holiday arrived in North America in the late 17th century with the LeMoyne brothers. They had come to defend France’s claim on Louisiana, and introduced the celebration to the locals in 1699 with a party held on the Mississippi River.
New Orleans Wasn’t the First Mardi Gras Location
Thousands of tourists flock to New Orleans every year for their Mardi Gras celebrations, but Mardi Gras facts reveal that this was not the location of the first recorded festival in the United States. The original Mardi Gras began in the city of Mobile, Alabama in 1703. New Orleans would not be founded for another 15 years after this time. The festival began as a French Catholic tradition, and is now widely celebrated throughout the city by many inhabitants, regardless of their religious affiliations. Most schools, and some businesses, even shut down during the Mardi Gras celebrations in Mobile.
Mardi Gras Has a Sweet Side
One of the most well-known traditions of Mardi Gras is the consumption of king cakes. A king cake resembles a coffee cake rather than a traditional cake, and is made with hand-braided dough that is topped with cinnamon and sugar. It is usually topped with icing and sugar in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold. The king cake is believed to have originated in France around the 12th century. King cakes also have a fun surprise: a plastic baby is baked into the cake. Whoever finds the baby in their piece of cake is then responsible for baking the king cake for the next party (several are held during the Mardi Gras season).
Masks Are Required During Mardi Gras Parades
One of the more surprising Mardi Gras facts tells us that it is illegal to ride on a float without wearing a mask during the celebration. The original purpose of the mask was to rid society of social constraints for a day, allowing different classes and groups to mingle freely throughout the celebrations.
Each Mardi Gras Color Is Symbolic
The main colors that you will see during Mardi Gras are purple, green and gold. Many decorations contain these colors, including the infamous beads that are thrown into crowds. It is said that these colors are meant to represent different characteristics. Green symbolizes faith, while purple represents justice. Gold indicates power. While the colors go far back into Mardi Gras history, beads are still fairly new to the festival. They didn’t become popular until the 1920s, when one parade threw inexpensive handmade glass necklaces into the crowd.
Easter Determines the Date of Mardi Gras
Looking back on Mardi Gras facts reveals that the date is different every year. This is because it is related to Easter, which also changes every year. Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon that occurs on or after March 21, or the first day of spring. Mardi Gras is usually held 47 days before Easter. The range of Mardi Gras dates is February 3 through March 9. These specific dates are important because they rarely are included in the Mardi Gras celebration, with it only falling on the first and last dates of this timeframe before Easter once every 100 to 150 years. The next time Mardi Gras will fall on March 9 is in 2038. Mardi Gras won’t fall on February 3 until 2285.
Mardi Gras Royalty Changes Yearly
Mardi Gras facts tell us about a Rex, or a King of the Carnival. This tradition began in New Orleans in 1872. Every year, the city chooses a new Rex. This is usually someone well-known in New Orleans, and they receive the symbolic key to the city. The first King of Mardi Gras was Russian Grand Duke Romanoff, who was visiting New Orleans for Mardi Gras. The city wanted him to feel welcome, and came up with the idea of crowning him for the festivities. There is also a Queen of the Carnival. Tradition dictates that the King will blow her a kiss during his parade.
Mardi Gras Is Celebrated All Over the World
Plenty of countries celebrate Mardi Gras. While it is a Catholic holiday traditionally, many have embraced the festival despite their differing religious beliefs. In Australia, there is a Mardi Gras festival that started as an attempt to urge the public to accept homosexuality. In Belgium, Mardi Gras is one of the most important celebration days of the year. There is plenty of dancing and celebrating throughout the city. In Brazil, nearly 70% of tourism takes place during Mardi Gras. The main festival and parade attracts nearly two million people. Italy takes their Mardi Gras celebrations very seriously, including hosting a Battle Of Oranges, an event that can be traced back to medieval times. Italy is the birthplace of the carnival celebration.
Mardi Gras Is Organized by Krewes
Krewes are organizations that put on the parade and balls for the carnival season and Mardi Gras. They are essentially clubs, with dues ranging from a mere 20 dollars to several thousands of dollars annually. Krewes are also responsible for selecting carnival royalty. There are dozens of Krewes, with some only a few years old and others having been around for decades. Some Krewes only allow family members to join, while others are open to anyone who would like to join.
Hurricane Katrina Did Not Stop Mardi Gras
New Orleans holds what may be the largest Mardi Gras celebration in the United States. When Hurricane Katrina hit at the end of August in 2005, much of the city was completely destroyed. New Orleans spends most of the year preparing for the next Mardi Gras festival and many awaited to see if the city would still continue the celebration the following spring. Luckily, the French Quarter, where much of the celebration is held, was spared the brunt of Hurricane Katrina’s wrath. Floats that had already been started were also mostly unharmed. The celebration continued as normal, showing the strength of the city, and giving us one of the most inspiring Mardi Gras facts.
Mardi Gras Is Just One Part of Carnival
The carnival season actually begins on King’s Day, which is January 6 (also known as the Feast of the Epiphany). Because Easter is never on the same day, Fat Tuesday is on a different day each year. If you want to experience an authentic Mardi Gras experience, plan a visit to New Orleans any time after January 6, when Carnival is in full swing. If you want to go closer to Mardi Gras, plan on reserving hotels months in advance and arriving no later than the Saturday prior to Mardi Gras.
It’s Not Just Beads That Are Thrown During Parades
While beads are the most common and well-known items thrown from floats during the Mardi Gras parades, there are plenty of other items that you might see. Plastic cups have become increasingly popular, since they were first thrown in 1980. Cracker Jack boxes were once a common item in Mobile, Alabama parades, but were banned in 1950 because of their sharp corners. Moon Pies quickly replaced the boxes in 1956 and are still popular today. Doubloons, or coins, became popular during the 1960s, and feature the details of different krewes. Coconuts have been popular for over 100 years, but in 1988 it became illegal to throw them into crowds. Today they are simply handed to spectators instead.
Mardi Gras Is a Thriving Business
With the huge number of tourists that visit New Orleans for Mardi Gras, combined with the city’s large population, it is no wonder that the festival is a huge part of the local economy. Anywhere between $144 and $500 million flows into the economy during a single Mardi Gras festival. The cost of putting on the show is expensive as well, with some floats costing over $100,000.
Mardi Gras Has Been Canceled Before
Since the first New Orleans Mardi Gras, the festival has had to be canceled about a dozen times. Mardi Gras facts show that the most common occurrences of cancellation were during war time, including during the Civil War and World Wars I and II. During the 1870s, yellow fever was a major concern, and the parades were canceled to keep people safe. The most recent cancellation was in 1945, during the last year of World War II.
Super Gras Changed the Schedule
In 2013, New Orleans hosted not only their annual Mardi Gras celebration but also the Super Bowl. In an effort to control the huge crowds, the city expanded the normal 12 -day parade season so that they could keep the streets float-free during the Super Bowl and the few days before and after. There have been changes throughout the years to control increasing crowds. In the 1970s, parades were no longer allowed to go down the narrow streets of the French Quarter.
Mardi Gras Facts – Facts about Mardi Gras Summary
Mardi Gras facts tell the story of a celebration that has deep historical roots. Beginning during pagan celebrations, the festival has evolved into a crazy, fun-filled event that has to be seen to be believed. With balls, parades, masks and indulgence in food and drink, Mardi Gras is one of the world’s truly unique holidays.