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Overview and History of Mardi Gras

Underneath the scorching rays of New Orleans sun, reflected off shimmering golds, greens and purples, and smothered beneath bustling crowds, lies one of the most exuberant festivals of the year; Mardi Gras. While this holiday, famously known as Fat Tuesday, is popularly celebrated amidst the people of New Orleans, it is also commercialized in cities across the globe like Venice and Rio De Janeiro, that are home to large populations of Roman Catholics. In many cities, Mardi Gras signifies a party, brought to life with live music and delicious food, however beneath the bedazzled masks and exotic outfits lies a fascinating history and tradition that is often overlooked by many.

The origins of this festival can be traced all the way back to a medieval European tradition called Sapurnatalia, held in anticipation for spring. During the middle ages, as Europe underwent christianization, the celebrations slowly adopted the customs and traditions of the Christians, morphing into a religious holiday. 

Coincidentally, the dates of Mardi Gras aligned with the weeks leading up to Easter and eventually became a prelude to Lent, a 40 day fasting period. The name “Mardi Gras” is the French word for “Fat Tuesday” referencing the indulgence of unhealthy foods that are typically given up for Lent, beginning the day after Mardi Gras on Ash Wednesday.

When Americans reference the wild festivities brought to life for Mardi Gras, they immediately allude to the “Crescent City” of New Orleans, Louisiana. Dubbed as the Mardi Gras capital of the nation, the first ever American mardi gras celebration was held in this city when French explorers, Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and Sieur de Bienville landed near modern day New Orleans on March 3, 1699. 

In the decades that followed, New Orleans and other French settlements began marking the holiday with street parties, masked balls and lavish dinners. However, when the Spanish took control of New Orleans, they abolished these rowdy rituals, and the bans remained in force until Louisiana became a U.S. state in 1812. 

Today, Louisiana is the only state that acknowledges Mardi Gras as a national holiday. Echoes of loud music and stampeding crowds are bellowed throughout the city as people of all ages continue to celebrate the centuries old tradition of Mardi Gras. 

This cultural event attracts tourists from around the world hoping for a taste of these wild festivities. Serving as a strong platform for cultural expression and a showcase for diverse musical styles, New Orleans invites people of all backgrounds to participate in the party, indigenous to the Roman Catholics. As it continues to evolve with modern day customs, Mardi Gras remains a lively festival that cherishes tradition dating back to Ancient Rome.


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