History of Mardi Gras
"Mardi Gras" literally means "Fat Tuesday" in
French. It is the day before "Ash Wednesday" when Lent begins,
the season of prayer and fasting observed by the Roman Catholic Church
during the forty days before Easter Sunday. Mardi Gras in New Orleans
dates back all the way to the late seventeenth century, when the city
was founded by by Jean Baptiste LeMoyne, Sieur de Bienville, and Pierre
LeMoyne, Sieur de Iberville.
Gras was celebrated throughout the period where New Orleans was under
control of the French and Spanish. After the signing of the Louisiana
Purchase in 1803, when New Orleans became part of America, the Creoles,
primarily of French and Spanish descent, who made up the upper-crust of
New Orleans society continued the tradition.
Carnival season in the first half of the nineteenth century was not a
calm, quiet celebration. In fact, the citizens of New Orleans got so
wrapped up in Mardi Gras that street masking was banned by the
authorities by the 1830's.
was rescued, however, by six young men from Mobile. They formed the
Mystick Krewe of Comus, a social club that staged the first New Orleans
Carnival parade on the evening of Mardi Gras in 1857. Naming one of
their number the king of the krewe (the word being deliberately spelled
that way to show they were an elite society), they paraded through the
streets of the French Quarter on two mule-driven floats.
the Civil War, several other krewes formed and did parades on the days
leading up to Mardi Gras. By 1871, Comus had been joined by the krewes
of Proteus and Momus, and a new group formed that year, known as the
School of Design. The School of Design decided to stage their parade
during the day on Mardi Gras, and they proclaimed that their king was to
be Rex, the King of Carnival.
the 1870's up to the present, new krewes continue to form, as groups of
friends, neighbors, business associates, etc., decide they want to
celebrate Carnival by parading through New Orleans.