Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday in English) is the big blowout before Ash Wednesday, which starts the Lenten season of fasting and religious obligation in the Christian tradition.
Some form of Fat Tuesday is observed in many countries around the world, but in the United States the biggest party takes place in New Orleans, where Mardi Gras and all things related to it have an economic impact of about $465 million per year according to a study done by Tulane University.
Six Mardi Gras Tidbits
1. Try some King Cake. The most iconic Mardi Gras food is King Cake which dates back about 300 years. King Cake is made of brioche dough laced with cinnamon, and topped with colorful glazed icing and gold, green, and purple sprinkles. Hundreds of thousands of King Cakes are consumed just in New Orleans during the Carnival season between the Feast of Epiphany (12 days after Christmas) and Mardi Gras day and are shipped all over the world throughout the year as well. King Cake typically contains a small token (often a tiny baby figure) and whoever gets that slice is expected to supply the next King Cake. Many business offices have a King Cake party every week through the season.
2. Listen to the music. A generous helping of Louisiana-flavored music will ignite the Mardi Gras spirit and the range is enormous – whether it’s Cajun or Creole, individually, or blended with some R&B, blues and jazz to become Zydeco, music for dancing is crucial. Check out some versions here: The late Clifton Chenier and The Red Hot Louisiana Band performing “Jolie Blonde” and here - Dr. John performing “Let the Good Times Roll”
3. Learn more about its origins. Unless you’re wearing a parade costume, it’s fun to dress in the traditional colors of Mardi Gras on Fat Tuesday. Those colors were chosen in 1872 when the Russian Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff was visiting, which also happened to be the first-ever daytime Mardi Gras parade. Organizers selected the Romanoff family colors of green, purple and gold to honor the Grand Duke. Purple stands for justice, green for faith, and gold for power.
4. Celebrate. There are a lot of parades during Mardi Gras. During the 12 days preceding Mardi Gras, more than 60 parades and hundreds of private parties, dances and masked balls are scheduled. “Throws” are an important element of Mardi Gras parades. Each krewe (an organization that holds parades) with a float throws candy and trinkets like colored beads, cups, candy to the crowds, including countless beads of green, purple and gold. Parade-goers usually take large sacks in which to collect their “throws.” In fact, about 25 million pounds of Mardi Gras beads alone are discarded after Mardi Gras. To help recycle the massive mounds of beads, Krispy Kreme in nearby Metairie, has been known to trade a dozen doughnuts for every 12 pounds of beads brought in.
5. Plan for next year's festivities. Mardi Gras isn’t a certain day every year because its timing depends on the date of Easter Sunday, which can fall between March 23 to April 25 and is timed to coincide with the first Sunday after a full moon following a spring equinox. Simple, huh? Just remember that Fat Tuesday is always the day before Ash Wednesday, which is always 46 days before Easter Sunday. If you want a headstart, check out these upcoming dates.
6. Check out Mardi Gras cinema. Mardi Gras has been the theme or backdrop for movies more than 200 times since 1898, ranging from “Mardi Gras” starring Pat Boone to “Easy Rider,” the classic counterculture road movie starring Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda. “King Creole” was released in 1958, starring Elvis Presley. Presley was granted a 60-day deferment from his service in the armed forces in order to finish the movie, which featured Presley singing “Hard-Headed Woman,” which was the No. 1 single on the pop music charts. Read up on more Mardi Gras movies.
Although a small area of Bourbon Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans gets a disproportionate amount of media coverage thanks to its reputation for all manner of celebration, Mardi Gras is much more than that tiny bit. Learn more about this family friendly celebration of music, dancing, costumes, masks, balls, and sports events.