The History of Old Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras and it's Sensual Beginning
The history of Mardi Gras began in ancient Rome with the Lupercian festival. which took place every February. The festival was a time of celebration and a time to mingle and meet new people. The Lupercian festival was a time of sensual pleasure. It was the most popular of all festivals in ancient Rome. A circus like sensual festival was held back then during ancient Rome.
The Culture of Mardi Gras
When Rome embraced Christianity the pagan holiday was toned down a bit, and the church decided it was better to embrace some pagan rituals then abolish them. The festival of Mardi Gras was held which proceeded the penance of lent. Mardi Gras came to America in 1699 with a French Explorer, named Iberville. Paris had celebrated Mardi Gras since the middle ages, when it was known as a major holiday. Iberville launched and expedition into the Gulf of Mexico and up the Mississippi River about 60 miles South where New Orleans is today. He set up camp in 1699 where he later named the spot Point du Mardi Gras.
Late 18th Century
While under French rule in the 1700's , pre-lenten Masked Balls Carnivals were popular in New Orleans. When New Orleans came under Spanish rule the custom was banned. In 1803 New Orleans cam under United States rule and Mardi Gras was revived. In 1823 the Creole convinced the Governor of New Orleans to allow masked balls again, better known as Mardi Gras. In 1827 Mardi Gras were once again allowed.
The 19th Century
In the 19th Century Mardi Gras was celebrated on foot and in horse drawn carriages, and on horseback, while everyone always wore masks. In 1837 was the First Mardi Gras parade, on record as of to date. In the 1840's and 1850's Mardi Gras gained bad press, because of maskers and their violent behavior. Even there standard behavior was introverted into sex with strangers and even unclothing themselves in public. Due to the behavior Mardi Gras was almost cancelled.
In 1857 the Comus Orginization was formed to protect Mardi Gras and its participants. This group saved Mardi Gras and ended the bad press and rumors of violent behavior. The group brought beauty and color to the streets of New Orleans and proclaimed Mardi Gras could be safe and festive to be enjoyed by all. Comus also brought the term Krewe to Mardi Gras and added floats and a parade through the crowded streets. Comus was named after a mythological creature.
In 1866 Comus returned after and interruption by the Civil War. In 1870 the 1st appearance was made by 12 Night Revelers into the Mardi Gras theme. IN 1871 a new custom came around where a young woman with a golden bean was hidden in a cake. She would be the 1st women of Mardi Gras. This launched the origin of the cake tradition.
Mardi Gras Cake
Mardi Gras Years
In 1872 the Grand Duke of Russia visited New Orleans , his name was Alex Romanoff. That year the King of the carnival made its debut in Mardi Gras. The Krewe of Rex introduced green, pupple and gold into Mardi Gras as it's official theme colors. Also the first organized daytime parade was introduced into Mardi Gras. The theme song was 'If Ever I Cease To Love'. One of the highest point of Rex was the King arriving by River Boat.
In 1872 on New Years Eve the Knights of Mamus arrived onto the Mardi Gras theme. Also in 1872 the Krewe of Proteus joined in on Mardi Gras. The parade theme was deemed after Egyptian mythology. In 1896 Les Mysterieues appeared this was the first female group to join Mardi Gras. In 1918 Mardi Gras was cancelled during the 1st World War.In 1835 the Elks Krewe of Hermes was formed.
In 1934 the Krewe of Alla brought it to the West Bank. In 1937 the Krewe of Hermes appeared. In 1939 the Krewe of Babylon appeared with Mardi Gras. During the 1940's Mardi Gras was booming, although it was not celebrated during the time of war. Louis Armstrong was the King of the Parade and was celebrated on the front cover of Time Magazine.
In 1930 the Duke and Duchess of Windsor visit Mardi Gras. During the Comus Ball they bow to Rex and Comus to show they are honoring them. In 1931 the Korean War put a cold feel on the Mardi Gras scene. Mule drawn floats arrived in the 1950's in Mradi Gras. Zues was the 1st Krewe to parade in Metarie. It was in 1961 that Pete Fountain formed the Half-Fast Walking Club, it was a big hit with the crowd. The 1960's ended with the arrival of Bacchus. Bacchus brought large floats with celebrities riding on them. Bacchus was also responsible for replacing the Ball with the Mardi Gras supper. Tickets could be bought by visitors and locals alike.
The 1970's brought with it a ban that ended Mardi Gras in the French Quarter. This ended a 117year tradition with the Mardi Gras celebration. A police strike ended 13 parades in Orleans Parish.
In the 1980's over 27 new parades were formed during Mardi Gras. Over 600,000 people were attending the Jefferson Parish Parade on Fat Tuesday.
The 1980's were the best times for Mardi Gras. In 1987 Rex revived the Lundi Gras where the Rex King arrives by River Boat on the Mississippi River. This tradition had been celebrated from 1874 to 1917.
The Traditional Ball lost it's popularity only to 10 Krewes by the end of the decade. They continued to carry on the age old tradition of Mardi Gras.
However Mardi Gras is still celebrated today. Mardi Gras can become a little to intense in New orleans, know that before you decide to go and have a great Mardi Gras.
By Rhonda G. Wits 1/14/11