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Mardi Gras: What is it?

Posted March 01, 2022

Mardi Gras: What is it?


When people think of Mardi Gras, most will picture the masquerade balls and parades held in New Orleans, however, this day is so much more.

Mardi Gras in French means “Fat Tuesday”. This day has roots in the pagan Roman celebration of Lupercalia honoring the Roman God of fertility. The day involved feasting, drinking, and carnal behavior.

During this time, there was a rise of the Catholic Church and blended roman practices with the Christian faith, which would later help people transition away from paganism.

On March 2nd, 1699 French explorer, Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville arrived at a plot of land 60 miles south from New Orleans and where the first Mardi Gras in America was celebrated in 1703.

The next year, a secret society was established called Masque de la Mobile in the settlement of Fort Louis de la Louisiane. This society was similar to the current Mardi Gras krewes (a group that hosts parade floats or balls every Mardi Gras celebration).

It wasn’t until 1718 when New Orleans was noticed by Bienville and by the 1730s Mardi Gras was openly celebrated.

The famous green, gold and purple colors were brought into the celebration in 1872 by a group of businessmen who invented King of Carnival, Rex and was to be in the first daytime parade.

Each color has a meaning to represent a king. Purple stands for justice, gold stands for power, and green stands for faith.

The reason behind the colors is simple. Rex Founders believed that a “King must have a kingdom, and a kingdom must have a flag” (

Because the U.S, Great Britain, and France all have tricolor flags, it was only right for the carnival to have three colors. Purple is often connected with royalty so it was obvious that it needed to be the main color. King’s are very wealthy and no other color is better than gold. Finally, according to the rules for the coat of arms, there were only five acceptable colors that could be used last – red, blue, green, and black.


There are many traditions for Mardi Gras whether it’s related to food, customs, or parties. Here are 7 traditions people may or may not know about:

  • Krewes: Groups or organizations that plan the balls and parades. Some may not know but Krewes go back to the mid-19th century and most are secret and very hard to get involved with. Today, most will feature a celebrity as the king or queen of their float.
  • Balls: Each krewe prepares a ball during the carnival season. Balls started in the 1800s and were very private. Now, some hold invite-only balls but a lot are now opened to the public and people can buy tickets.
  • Beads and Throws: Beads and throws are anything that the krewes throw out to the public during the celebrations. This tradition started in the 1920s and has been one of the biggest parts of Mardi Gras. Originally, people would toss the colors to people who they thought exhibited the color’s meaning. Fun fact: the beads people see being handed out today used to be made out of glass. Other throws include cups, toys, moon pies, and doubloons. Fun Fact: In early celebrations, the beads tossed out were made out of real glass. Be on the lookout because krewes today will sometimes hand out these beads!
  • King Cake: An Oval-shaped cake that is braided and covered in icing and sugar.Along with the cake itself, there is also a small plastic baby that comes with it for buyers to hide in the cake. When the cake is cut and handed out, whoever has the baby in their piece is named king for the day and buys the king cake for the next year.

Mardi Gras: What is it?

  • Paczki: Like a regular jelly-filled donut, but richer and fluffier. In Poland, Christians were looking for a way to dispose of ingredients they could not or would not eat during lent. Instead of throwing stuff out, they used their fats, eggs, milk, yeast, sugar, and fruits and made the delicious dough filled food. Not only did the dish become popular, but it made sure that people would be faithful during lent.
  • Masks and Costumes: In the early years, masks were a way for people to mingle without having to worry about the different classes in society and be whoever they wanted. In New Orleans, float riders are required by law to have a mask on. On Fat Tuesday all attendees are allowed to participate in mask-wearing, but many store owners require to take them off in their businesses.
  • Floats and Flambeaux: Super Krewes have floats that come back every year. The floats are the center of the celebration for Mardi Gras. In the mid-1800s, the floats were guided by men carrying torches to light the way for the route. These men were called, “flambeaux” and are still used to this day.

"Yet even now—oracle of the LORD— return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning." - Joel 2:12

Since today is Mardi Gras (or "Fat Tuesday), our Advancement team made dessert to share with coworkers. As Lent begins tomorrow and Christians focus even more on prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we remember the gifts God has given us. May Lent be a time of thanksgiving for all the ways the Lord has loved us, as well as a time of repentance of our sins.

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“7 New Orleans Mardi Gras Traditions and Their History.” Hotel Monteleone, 4

Jan. 2022,

“Mardi Gras and the Catholic Church.” Mardi Gras and the Catholic Church – St.

Ann Catholic Church,

Mardi Gras New Orleans,

Ross, Philip. “Mardi Gras History and Facts: The Real Meaning behind These 5

'Fat Tuesday' Traditions.” International Business Times, 28 Feb. 2017,

Catholic Diocese of Cleveland Part of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland

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