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Why Do People Wear A Mardi Gras Mask

Updated on July 31, 2009

Many expositions and many books have been devoted to teach us about the famous Mardi Gras Mask.

A mardi gras mask is the absolute essential item of the carnival. You really cannot take part fully in the carnival without one of these wonderful masks, to dress up your costume.

By hiding your face the mardi gras mask allows you to play a totally different role, it gives you the liberty to assume another personality. It is symbolic and magical, anonymous and mysterious. Who could be hiding behind this mardi gras mask that only allow the light of eyes to show? Now your eyes are no longer a window to your soul, the slits in the mask allow you to see but your own eyes reveal nothing anymore.

But according to Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant, in the Dictionnaire des Symboles, (Robert Laffont, coll. Bouquins, 1982, p. 615) masks do not hide the persona, but reveal in fact and liberate the lower tendencies of the true personality of the one who wears the mask.

There was an ancient belief, that the devil participated in all masquerades and wearing a mask was a way to protect oneself from the devil. This was even more important for women, whom the devil would seduce and impregnate. But since the mask is in itself the instrument of a devilish possession, to wear a mask could be dangerous. Many people had been thought to have disappeared without a trace from carnivals, Yet the attraction of the mask was so great that the superstitions surrounding the wearing of the mask remained without influence on people.

These superstitions and beliefs are far from the thoughts of people who dress up and wear a mask for mardi gras in today's society, but yet the tradition remains.

Just like little boys and little girls like to "dress up", and we all know that for them dressing up is more than just putting on clothes that they do not normally wear, (mom's dress and heels, a princess' dress or a cowboy's costume), when we play dress up for the carnival we do not really wear a disguise, we shed for a little time what we are. We can find ourselves again, behind the mask the myth of eternal youth is intact, behind a mask you can keep your mystery of age and sex. The costumed person is forbidden to talk to keep his/her secret.

The mask is there to restore dreams, only they eyes can express anything and a look can only be timeless.

Wearing a mask at the carnival is finding in oneself the child we may have lost, who in spite of life's struggles is still buried in us and only asks to reappear once in a while.

African Masks

Did The African Masks Influenced Mardi Gras Masks

Generally speaking, Africans societies use a mask as an instrument. The person who wear a mask is not only representing a spiritual power, but during rituals he identifies with this power and lends his/her body to the divine, becoming only a tool by which the magic can be performed. Thus the mask was used to insure the health and protection of the community. It also contributed to the social status and often the lineage of the members in that society.

It was often forbidden, to even try to identify the wearer of a mask, this interdiction was punishable by death in some societies.

Some myths indicate that at some time this privilege belonged to women, until men took it away from them.

While we can find many African traditions in the costumes, and in the dancing at the various carnivals around the world, the African mask does not appear to be a great influence on mardi gras masks. Today they are mostly valued as collectibles and art objects, not as wearable objects.

Venetian Mardi Gras Masks

The most famous cities celebrating Mardi Gras with a carnival are Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Sydney, Australia and New Orleans, Louisiana. The Mardi Gras carnival is widely celebrated in many European cities. Among the most important carnivals of Europe we find Nice, France; Köln, Germany; and Venice, Italy which is home of the most famous carnival celebrations in the world. The masks associated with Venice are legendary and go back to the early middle ages. The tradition of wearing a mask had degenerated and people would wear a mask to conceal their bad behavior. This led the authorities to forbid the wearing of masks in Venetian society. This was a long period of interdiction but today the Venetian carnival has seen a renaissance.

Wearing of masks in Venice is now restricted to the period of carnival, but their production is alive and many beautiful mardi gras masks based on Venetian styles can be purchased everywhere.


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    • rebelogilbert profile image

      Gilbert Arevalo 

      3 years ago from Hacienda Heights, California

      Thanks for the interesting information.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      peter you are good at stuff

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      where could i find a mask like the last golden one:)

    • Mireille G profile imageAUTHOR

      Mireille G 

      8 years ago from Kansas

      @ Will R,

      Thank you for correcting me on this information. You have added great information which I did not know. I will do more research on the matter and will amend my hug accordingly. Please be patient as it might take me some time. But accuracy is important. In the mean time your comment is much appreciated and provide information to people.

    • profile image

      Will R 

      8 years ago

      Sadly, your discussion of Mardi Gras is missing the most significant city where Mardi Gras has been celebrated longer than anywhere else in the United States-Mobile, Alabama-the BIRTH PLACE of Mardi Gras in the U.S. Historically, Mardi Gras was first celebrated in Mobile in 1703, 15 years before New Orleans was founded. From Mobile being the first capital of French Louisiana (1702), the festival began as a French Catholic tradition, celebrating until the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday. Many Mystic societies have participated in Mardi Gras, some formally founded in 1704. The most noted rekindling of the Mardi Gras, however, is attributed to Joe Cain, who first paraded in 1867, after the celebration had been stopped due to the Civil War.

    • Mireille G profile imageAUTHOR

      Mireille G 

      8 years ago from Kansas

      @ slushatwork I am sure your daughter will have much fun with a mask with feathers. Making masks is fun but wearing them is even better.

    • slushatwork profile image


      8 years ago from Canada

      I always wondered why you have to wear a mask on Mardi Gras. Knowing the history gives it that much more meaning - if if I'm just helping my daughter glue some feathers to one she's making for school. Thanks!

    • Dublio profile image


      9 years ago from United States

      In a way, wearing a mask helps reveal who you really are. Just like the internet, if no one knows who you are, how you act reflects upon your true self. The question is; what kind of person are you?

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Really interesting hub, thanks a lot for taking the time to write it!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Wow, i love them! Wish i could own one. I watched some programs on TV about these stuffs before.

    • Mireille G profile imageAUTHOR

      Mireille G 

      10 years ago from Kansas

      Trish, don't say never you might fall on it again somewhere else by accident. But the most popular part of New Orleans is not always where the real mardi gras happens. A lot of the bad things that happen are often shown on TV and talked about, but there are some folks who celebrate mardi gras in New Orleans that you do not see in those quarters.

    • trish1048 profile image


      10 years ago

      I was lucky to have gone to the Mardi Gras, actually, quite by accident. I was coming home from a cross-country trip and realized, once I hit Texas that the Mardi Gras was in full swing. I called ahead to secure a room, only to be told there were none available, and the nearest they could put me was 80 miles away. I nixed that, and continued on. As I approached the exit for New Orleans, I took it so that I could at least see what the city looked like. I parked my vehicle in a lot, and at the next corner was a Hilton. I went inside on a whim to inquire about a room, and surprise, surprise, they had one. I took it for two nights.

      The Mardi Gras experience was like nothing I have ever experienced in my lifetime. It was so crowded that at one point, my feet were not on the ground. I was literally being carried through the crowd by bodies crammed against mine. The infamous beads, the costumes, the parade were glorious. I have wonderful pictures of folks in costumes and masks.

      I doubt I will ever go again, after this one experience, I believe I got the full flavor of the event.

    • Temperance M profile image

      Temperance M 

      10 years ago from Oregon

      I just love the detail of the Venetian Mardi Gras masks - they have some wonderful color and texture. Thanks for sharing these!

    • Mireille G profile imageAUTHOR

      Mireille G 

      10 years ago from Kansas

      Than you for your comments. There was a wonderful short story written by Marcel Schwob, the king in the golden mask. If you like masks and symbolism, I highly recommend it as it is fascinating reading. Nothing to do with Mardi Gras but all to do with what we hide or reveal. Frieda this is very much in line with your lies post.

    • fastfreta profile image

      Alfreta Sailor 

      10 years ago from Southern California

      This was a very well written hub. I never even thought about this subject, however I could not stop reading until the end. Very interesting info about the masks in Africa. And I never knew about the Mardi Gras' history. I only thought it was celebrated in Rio, and New Orleans.

    • JennaJackson profile image


      10 years ago

      WOW! Beautiful masks and a terrific hub. Makes me want to pack up now for Mardi Gras.


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