Mardi Gras Defined

Have you ever wondered where Mardi Gras came from or WHY it is celebrated the way it is?

The origin of “Fat Tuesday” is said come from the ancient Pagan custom of parading a fat ox through the town. Mardi Gras, French for “Fat Tuesday,” is celebrated the day before Ash Wednesday. It is the last “fling” before the Christians observe 40 days of Lent (a season that, for many Christians, requires fasting and praying). The beginning of the Mardi Gras Season is always observed on January 6th, coinciding with Little Christmas (also known as Twelfth Night). Mardi Gras Day, however, can fall between February 3rd and March 10th. Since the date of Mardi Gras varies, the length of the season also varies from each year. The day on which Mardi Gras falls upon depends on the Lunar calendar, which is used by the Catholic Church to determine the date of Easter. Mardi Gras is always 47 days before Easter Sunday.

The official colors of Mardi Gras, purple, green and gold, were chosen in 1872 by King Rex, also known as the King of Carnival. Each color has an underlying meaning:
�¯�¿�½Purple represents justice
�¯�¿�½Green represents faith
�¯�¿�½Gold represents power

Mardi Gras Lingo:

“If you go to New Orleans, you gotta go see the Mardi GrasâÂ?¦” and you better know the lingo too!

Banquette – (Bang-ket) New Orleans term for sidewalks. “If you stand on the banquette, you won’t get run over by the float!”

Barn: A warehouse owned by a Krewe to build and store the floats.

Beads: Plastic necklaces thrown from floats and balconies during Mardi Gras. They vary in color, size, style, length, and quality. People are known to do some outrageous things to acquire beads during Mardi Gras (especially on Bourbon Street). Until the 1970s to early 1980s, beads were made of glass, however glass beads were dangerous (they would break in the catchers’ hands and on the ground) so they were outlawed and replaced with the plastic beads.

Canal Street: The widest thoroughfare in the world, located in New Orleans.

Carnival: Observed from Twelfth Night (January 6th) through Fat Tuesday.

Carnival Ball: For many Krewes, the ball is the climax of the carnival season. In keeping with the traditions of the Krewe’s secrecy, most balls are by invitation only and honor the King and Queen.

Coronation: A Formal event where the Krewe’s King crowns his Queen. Each year new Royalty is selected from the members of the Krewe.

Doubloon (da-bloon): From the tradition of Spanish pirates come doubloons, large coins that float riders toss to revelers as they pass down the parade route. In earlier years, doubloons were real money. Later, in the 1900s they were made of wood, today they are made of colored aluminum. Most bear the Krewe’s emblem.

Emblem: A graphic representation of a krewe, often with symbols and/or hidden meaning. Emblems appear on parade throws such as doubloons, cups, or bead medallions.

Fat Tuesday: The final day of the Mardi Gras season, it celebrated with parades and balls.

Flambeaux (“Flam-bow”) Before there were electric streetlights; nighttime parades were lit by fiery torches called the flambeaux. Traditionally, Black men carried the lit torches and revelers threw money (coins) to show their appreciation. Some older Krewes continue to use Flambeaux carriers.

King cake: A ring shaped pastry decorated with purple, green and yellow sugar. Traditionally, the king cake makes its debut on Jan. 6th (twelfth night). King cake parties are held at offices, schools and among friends. A small plastic baby hidden inside the cake and tradition states that whoever finds the baby holds the next king cake party.

Krewe: Carnival Organizations that stage parades and costume balls.

Ladders: Wooden seats affixed to the top of ladders. They used to be used to keep children from getting lost in the crowd or falling under the floats, now adults use them to catch more throws.

Lagniappe: ” A little something extra, at no cost”

Lundi Gras: the day before Fat Tuesday, a day of parades, fireworks and parties.

Mardi Gras: The days and weeks preceding Fat Tuesday. It is celebrated with parades and balls.
Neutral Ground: The grassy strip between streets and avenues. In most cities it is called the “median.” In the early years the French and Spanish could do business between their sections of the city standing on the “neutral ground.” Literally, a piece of ground where the two peoples could walk and talk peacefully.

Parade: Mardi Gras parades involve crowd participation and interaction. All parades have decorated floats and marching bands. Krewe members throw beads, doubloons and other trinkets to screaming parade goers (revelers). Parades follow predetermined parade routes.

Revelers: Crowds at the parade screaming for throws.

Royalty: Each year, Krewes choose royalty from the members of their organization. Maids, Dukes, Pages, Princess, and the King and Queen are considered the Krewe’s Royalty.

Tableaux: An elaborate production or series of scenes, skits, or dances linked by a theme. A traditional tableaux is performed by the Royal court for the King, Queen and guests of the balls.

Throws: Small gifts (beads, stuffed animals, trinkets, doubloons) tossed from parade floats by costumed maskers or riders. This is what truly makes Mardi Gras parade different from other parades.

Twelfth Night: Evening before Epiphany. Marks end of the 12-day season of Christmas festivities. January 6th. Internationally recognized as the official first day of the Carnival, an extended celebration that lasts through Mardi Gras.

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