Why Do We Drink For Mardi Gras?
Mardi Gras, which means “Fat Tuesday” in French, conjures up images of drunken revelers engaging in excesses of every kind. But although debaucherous partying is certainly part of the scene, so too is religion, culture, food, history—and the “Star Wars” character Chewbacca.
The festivals ends on Fat Tuesday, here are some facts to throw around while drinking a hurricane celebrating Mardi Gras.
New Orleans metro area’s 30,000-plus hotel rooms are traditionally 95% filled during Mardi Gras weekend, so book early.
An economic impact study released by the University of New Orleans estimates that Mardi Gras generates over $840 million annually.
Traditionally, in the days leading up to Lent, merrymakers would binge on all the meat, eggs, milk and cheese that remained in their homes, preparing for several weeks of eating only fish and fasting. In France, the day before Ash Wednesday came to be known as Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday.”
A Christian holiday and popular cultural phenomenon, Mardi Gras dates back thousands of years to pagan spring and fertility rites. Also known as Carnival, it is celebrated in many countries around the world–mainly those with large Roman Catholic populations–on the day before the religious season of Lent begins.
Many historians believe that the first American Mardi Gras took place on March 3, 1699, when the French explorers Iberville and Bienville landed in what is now Louisiana, just south of the holiday’s future epicenter: New Orleans.
In the United States, Mardi Gras draws millions of fun-seekers to New Orleans every year. Mardi Gras has been celebrated in New Orleans on a grand scale, with masked balls and colorful parades, since French settlers arrived in the early 1700s. Hidden behind masks, people behaved so raucously that for decades in the early 19th century masks were deemed illegal in that party-loving city.
Mardi Gras has long combined wild street activities open to everyone with events organized by private clubs known as krewes. Today, thousands of people belong to about 60 krewes that plan the parades and balls of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras.
There even is the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus that you can join.
The millions of colorful beaded necklaces thrown from floats are the most visible symbols and souvenirs of Mardi Gras. In addition, millions of cups and toy coins known as doubloons are decorated with krewe logos and thrown to parade-watchers.
People do outrageous things to catch the most throws. Some dress as priests, hoping the many Catholics on the floats will shower them with goodies. Others dress their children in eye-catching costumes and seat them, holding baskets to catch the loot, on ladders that tower over the crowds.
The Krewe of Rex first introduced the green, gold & purple color scheme in 1872, but it wasn’t until twenty years later that the meaning of each color was revealed. According to Rex’s interpretation, purple represented justice, green was symbolic of faith and gold represented power.
The super parades of Endymion and Bacchus, scheduled for the Saturday and Sunday before Fat Tuesday, feature a combined total of 75 floats, 60 marching bands and more than 250 units. Their 2,300 members toss more than 1.5 million cups, 2.5 million doubloons and 2 million beads.
The largest of about one dozen Mardi Gras supply houses in New Orleans sold 41 million pairs of beads for Carnival, 1991.
A traditional King Cake is traditionally an oblong or oval shaped cinnamon dough cake, glazed with frosting and sprinkled with colored sugar. What colors you ask? Purple, Green, and Gold, of course! King Cakes are available in all sorts of colors and flavored fillings such as cream cheese, strawberry, and apple.
More than 500,000 king cakes are sold each year in New Orleans between January 6 and Fat Tuesday, and another 50,000 are shipped out-of-state via overnight courier. The sugar-coated pastries include a tiny plastic baby doll inside; the person who finds it is declared “king” and must buy the next cake or give the next party.
Louisiana is the only state in which Mardi Gras is a legal holiday. However, elaborate carnival festivities draw crowds in other parts of the United States during the Mardi Gras season as well, including Alabama and Mississipp. Each region has its own events and traditions.
Since 1857, the New Orleans festivities have been cancelled about a dozen times. Most of those cancellations came during the Civil War, World War I and World War II, though revelers also stayed home during a 1870s yellow fever outbreak.
The Superbowl has interrupted the parade schedule. When New Orleans hosted the Super Bowl a few years ago, the parades were not help on Super Bowl Sunday. Football does really dominate the US…
Mardi Gras Planning Calendar
- 2015: February 17
- 2016: February 9
- 2017: February 28
- 2018: February 13
- 2019: March 5
- 2020: February 25