“Carnival is a butterfly of winter, whose last mad flight of Mardi Gras forever ends his glory. Another season is the glory of another butterfly, and the tattered, scattered fragments of rainbow wings are in turn the record of his day. ”
– PERRY YOUNG: The Mystick Krewe; Chronicles of Comus and His KinI hope everyone has enjoyed my Mardi Gras series. I am going to end it with the actual origins of how Mardi Gras found its way in the United States and how it has progressed.
Mardi Gras (French for Fat Tuesday) is also called Shrove Tuesday. It refers to events of the Carnival celebrations, beginning on or after the Christian feasts of the Epiphany (Three King’s Day) and culminating on the day before Ash Wednesday. Fat Tuesday reflects the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season.
The origins can be traced to Medieval Europe, going from Rome and Venice in the 17th and 18th centuries to the French House of the Bourbons. From here, the traditional revelry of “Boeuf Gras,” or fatted calf, followed France to her colonies.
On March 2, 1699, French-Canadian explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville arrived in an area directly south of New Orleans, naming it “Pointe du Mardi Gras” because it was the eve of the festive holiday. Bienville also established “Fort Louis de la Louisiane” (which is now Mobile) in 1702. In 1703, the tiny settlement of Fort Louis de la Mobile celebrated America’s very first Mardi Gras.
In 1704, Mobile established a secret society (Masque de la Mobile). It lasted until 1709. In 1710, the “Boeuf Gras Society” was formed and paraded from 1711 through 1861.
Around 1730 Mardi Gras was celebrated in New Orleans. In the early 1740s, Louisiana’s governor, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, established elegant society balls. These balls would bring forth the Mardi Gras balls of today.
The earliest reference to Mardi Gras “Carnival” appears in a 1781 report to the Spanish colonial governing body. That year, the Perseverance Benevolent & Mutual Aid Association was the first of hundreds of clubs and carnival organizations formed in New Orleans.
By the late 1830s, New Orleans held street processions of maskers with carriages and horseback riders to celebrate Mardi Gras. Gaslight torches (“flambeaux”) lit the way for the parades. In 1856, six young Mobile natives formed the Mistick Krewe of Comus in New Orleans. They brought with them amazing floats (known as tableaux cars) and masked balls.
In 1870, Mardi Gras’ second Krewe, the Twelfth Night Reverlers was formed. Then in 1872 a group of businessmen invented a King of Carnival, Rex, to preside over the first daytime parade. To honor the visiting Russian Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff, the businessmen introduced Romanoff’s family colors of purple, green and gold as Carnival’s official colors. Purple stands for justice; gold for power; and green for faith. This was also the Mardi Gras season that Carnival’s improbable anthem, “If Ever I Cease to Love,” was cemented, due in part to the Duke’s fondness for the tune.
The following year, floats began to be constructed entirely in New Orleans instead of France. In 1875, Governor Warmoth signed the “Mardi Gras Act,” making Fat Tuesday a legal holiday in Louisiana. Today, parades are bigger and brighter, especially with the introduction of the Super-Krewe’s like Endymion. Making New Orleans during Mardi Gras a huge tourist destination.
To everyone out there have a safe and Happy Mardi Gras.