Mardi Gras Celebrations in New Orleans

"Mardi Gras" means "Fat Tuesday." Traditionally, it is the last day for Christians to indulgeóand often overindulgeóbefore Ash Wednesday starts the sober weeks of fasting that come with Lent. Formally known as Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras has long been a time of extravagant fun for European Christians. In fact, some people think Mardi Gras celebrations have their source in the wild springtime orgies of the ancient Romans.
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.

The past: Mardi Gras was celebrated in the Christian countries of Europe long before the founding of the Crescent City. The day French-Canadian explorer Sieur d'Iberville and his men camped 60 miles south of New Orleans in 1699 happened to be Mardi Gras, March 3, so he named the place Pointe du Mardi Gras. It didn't take long for the French to start celebrating this holiday in the New World. Historians say that Mardi Gras was observed by masked balls and bawdy street processions in New Orleans as early as the 1700s.
The French in New Orleans were having private masked balls and parties in 1718. When the Spanish government took over, parties and street dancing were banned. It wasn't until 1827, when Americans were in power, that the right to party in mask was restored --I love America! During the 1850's, the city's elite and their elegant Mardi Gras parties were quite a contrast to the wild partying and near-rioting in the streets. It was soon clear that all celebrations were in danger of facing another ban.
In 1857, a group of men formed a secret society called the Mystick Krewe of Comus. They knew that Mardi Gras could be preserved with planning,organization, and management of the celebrations. Comus planned the first parade around a theme and used flambeauxs to light the procession. The Krewe of Rex formed in 1872 -- principally to entertain the visiting Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff of Russia.
 Since America didn't have royalty to properly welcome the Grand Duke, the men in Rex created a King "for the day" so the Grand Duke could be royally received. They secretly anointed one of their own (a certain Mr.Halliday) to be the King of Carnival. Mockery is a hilarious characteristic of Mardi Gras! (To this day, many parades keep their King's identity a secret until parade day.) It soon became known that the Grand Duke's reported mistress lover, Lydia Thompson (an American actress and star), was appearing in New Orleans during the Duke's visit. We don't know if having a mistress at that time was to be kept quiet, but the parade band didn't care, and its official theme then became "If Ever I Cease to Love You." Mardi Gras has always been risque at times! New Orleanians have since formed a lot of secret societies that have served many charitable and social functions. They often help unite the city with their parade's political themes. In 1877, after a brief interruption from the Civil War and the unrest that followed, the Krewe of Momus held a parade with the theme "Hades, a Dream of Momus" to ridicule President Grant and his Administration.

The Present day celebrations:

Starting in January with the Feast of the Epiphany, the city of New Orleans puts on a party like no other, with the heart of the festivities being the last five days during February. Marching bands, some of them founded more than a century ago, also take to the streets with music and festive dress. They open the day by spreading jazz music through the city before the more than 350 floats and 15,000 costumed paraders take over the scene. Crazy costumes and wild make-up are the order of the day for paraders and parade-watchers alike. The most lavish get-ups can be seen at the cross-dressing beauty pageants in the French Quarter, where bawdy costuming may reach new heights (over seven feet, in heels). Every year over four million people come from around the world to be part of Mardi Gras.  Parades fill the streets with endless floats, the sounds of live jazz and blues bands filter from every club, and those who come to this massive party become a part of it's mystique. It's a time for parties, parades, balls, and celebrations. The final day is Mardi Gras Day or Fat Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday & Lent). When the clock strikes midnight, the festivities come to an end.

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