Brief History of Mardi Gras
Many are surprised to learn that Mardi Gras is technically a Christian holiday, but largely a pop culture creation. The history goes back thousands of years, hearkening to pagan spring celebrations. It’s also called “Carnival” and is celebrated in countries around the globe, usually in areas with a rich Roman Catholic community. Countries including Brazil and Italy also have big Mardi Gras parties.
Mardi Gras originated from the Roman celebrations of Lupercalia and Saturnalia. The arrival of Christianity in pagan regions led to the incorporation of local traditions with the “new religion.” Naturally, the debauchery of Mardi Gras grew as a pre-cursor to Lent (40 days of penance before Easter).
Before Lent, many people would binge on cheese, alcohol, meat and sweets before giving it all up for Lent. The term “Mardi Gras” is from the French, meaning “Fat Tuesday,” marking the day you “get fat” before Ash Wednesday kicks off Lent. Most people know the meaning of Carnival, but it also comes from the Latin word “carnelevarium” which means “to take away meat.”
It’s believed that the first Mardi Gras in the US was March 3, 1699 in what we know as New Orleans today. It was a small party called “Point du Mardi Gras” and was hosted by the French explorers Iberville and Bienville. The Spanish abolished the parties when they took control of the area, but when Louisiana became a state in 1812, the revelries started again.