In the days leading up to Lent, merrymakers traditionally would binge on meat, eggs, milk and cheese, preparing for several weeks of fasting. In France, the day before Ash Wednesday came to be known as Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday.” The word “carnival,” may derive from this vegetarian-unfriendly custom: in Medieval Latin, carnelevarium means to take away or remove meat.
Carnival always starts on the sixth of January. Mardi Gras is the big hoorah of Carnival, always the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, when the season of Lent begins for the Catholic Church. Lent ends on Holy Thursday before Easter Sunday, which falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring equinox.
Publicity likes to give Mardi Gras a bad name, deeming it X-rated mayhem as seen in cringe-worthy “Girls Gone Wild” commercials via Bourbon Street blasphemy. Contrary to this false portrayal, Mardi Gras is a safe, G-rated event—a citywide holiday that is commonly enjoyed by families.
Louisiana is the only state in which Mardi Gras is a legal holiday.
Both tradition and law demand that Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans are not corporately sponsored. Along with that, “official Mardi Gras” anything—poster, T-shirt, keychain—simply does not exist. Unlike major sports events, Mardi Gras has no governing authority to license paraphernalia. Therefore, nothing that you find in souvenir stores is actually “official.”
The first-ever Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans was held on February 24, 1857. The Mystick Krewe of Comus, Carnival’s first secret society, coined the word “krewe,” a word that’s still used.
Carnival colors are purple, green and gold. Each royal color comes with a meaning. Purple signifies justice; green is for faith, and gold symbolizes power.
The plastic baby inside the king cake does not represent Jesus. In the past, the traditional prizes inside the cakes were coins, beans, pecans or peas. The person who finds the plastic baby is declared “king” and must buy the next cake or give the next party.
Fat Tuesday is the official day of Mardi Gras, and the only day of the year when street-masking is legal all day long. In fact, float riders must wear their masks at all times—it is the law! New Orleans is very serious about Mardi Gras—so serious that the chance of cancelling is slim to none. Since 1857, Mardi Gras has only been cancelled 13 times, mostly in war times.
According to an economic study by the University of New Orleans, Mardi Gras generates more than $840 million annually.