Mardi Gras: How The Celebration And Madness Began
By: Megan Bell
Mardi Gras, aka “Fat Tuesday,” originated from Christianity in Europe and marked the day before Lent.
Catholics used to celebrate Carnival about a week prior to Lent, consuming all the milk, cheese, eggs and meat in their homes. Fat Tuesday was the last day they could splurge before the abstinence began at midnight. Once Ash Wednesday hit, they would only eat fish and fast during the 40 days leading up to Easter Sunday.
Historians date the first American Mardi Gras to March 3, 1699, when a French explorer landed on what is now Louisiana. He named the area Point du Mardi Gras. Street celebrations, extravagant dinners and masked balls became the holiday traditions until Spain gained control of New Orleans and prohibited them. When Louisiana became a state in 1812, the ban was lifted.
In 1827, some students in New Orleans on Mardi Gras danced through the streets dressed in vibrant costumes, imitating the festivities they had seen while in Paris. The first recorded New Orleans Mardi Gras parade occurred a decade later.
In 1872, the Grand Duke of Russia, Alexis Romanov, coincidentally landed in New Orleans during Mardi Gras in search of his love, actress Lydia Thompson. To celebrate his trip, a collection of 40 businessmen put money toward a daytime parade they called “Rex,” which is Latin for “king.” Word spread of Rex the day before Mardi Gras. The city was shut down and all attention was placed on “Rex, King of Carnival.” The Romanov family colors of gold, green and purple were implemented into tradition.
Mardi Gras has also come to embrace throwing beads, decorating floats and wearing masks.
Louisiana remains the only state to declare Mardi Gras a legal holiday.