Mardi Gras 2013: 10 Things To Know About New Orleans’ Famous Carnival

on February 06 2013 5:08 PM
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For many, Mardi Gras in New Orleans means one thing: the throwing of the beads. Creative Commons

Mardi Gras 2013 will take place on (Fat) Tuesday, Feb. 12. Here are 10 things to know before you start tossing beads.

Mardi Gras Has Pagan Roots

Mardi Gras (French for Fat Tuesday) is a Christian holiday-cum-pop culture phenomenon that dates back thousands of years to pagan spring and fertility rites. Also known as Carnival, it’s celebrated in several nations across the globe -- predominantly those with large Roman Catholic populations -- on the day before the religious season of Lent. When Christianity arrived in Rome, religious leaders decided to incorporate some pagan traditions like the raucous Roman festivals of Saturnalia and Lupercalia into the new faith -- a far easier task than abolishing them outright. As a result, the debauchery and excess of Carnival season became a prelude to the 40 days of penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.

Mardi Gras Began In Mobile, Ala.

Mardi Gras spread from Rome across Europe where it then crossed the oceans to the colonies of the New World. Historians believe the first American Mardi Gras occurred in 1703, one year after French explorer Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville established Fort Louis de la Louisiane in what is now Mobile, Ala. By the 1730s, New Orleans and other French settlements took to marking the holiday with masked balls, lavish dinners and wild street parties. The first parade in New Orleans is thought to have occurred on Fat Tuesday in 1827, while the first official parade took place 10 years later.

Mardi Gras Is Not A One-Day Event

Mardi Gras is not a singular event but rather a season that begins on Three Kings Day and climaxes on Fat Tuesday, just in time for a somber Ash Wednesday. Thus, the cycle of sin and redemption continues.

Events Are Run By Krewes

For those unfamiliar with the inner workings of New Orleans' famous Carnival, Mardi Gras-speak can sound a bit like coded language. There is not a parade, there are multiple parades thrown by krewes. What's a krewe? That's Mardi Gras talk for a "crew" -- a team or organization that may spend thousands of dollars to put on a parade and ball for Carnival season. Krewes range from the Knights of Chaos to the Mystic Knights of Adonis, from the Krewe of ZULU to the Krewe Delusion. The names alone make it sound like a Renaissance Faire on the moon.

Mardi Gras Is Only A Legal Holiday In Louisiana

Mardi Gras is a holiday just like Christmas or Easter in Louisiana and, accordingly, there is no “official” Mardi Gras, “official” Mardi Gras merchandise or “official” Mardi Gras website. Though Louisiana remains the only state in which Mardi Gras is on the books, nearby Alabama and Mississippi have acquired their own Mardi Gras traditions, and Fat Tuesday celebrations are now held across the nation.

The Purple, Green And Gold Have Meaning

The traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold were not chosen arbitrarily. Rex, the King of Carnival, selected this scheme in 1892, declaring purple for justice, green for faith and gold for power. The colors are now used on nearly every Mardi Gras decoration, including the millions of beaded necklaces that have been tossed along the parade route since the 1870s.

Mardi Gras Pumps $1Bn Into New Orleans’ Economy

Economic impact reports indicate that the annual festivities generate more than $1 billion in annual spending. Some of that comes from obvious things like the 36,000 sold-out hotel rooms, souvenirs, the sale of food and beverage. But a lot of the money actually comes from New Orleans residents themselves, who have to pay for seamstresses to make the costumes, jewelers to create the accessories, float makers and invitation makers.

It’s Not All ‘Girls Gone Wild’

Mardi Gras is really about slowing down, being with family and watching thousands of dancers, musicians and revelers take over the city. The nudity often associated with the ubiquitous beads is limited to streets in the French Quarter. A good rule of thumb: uptown is more family-friendly and manageable. The farther down you go, the rowdier it gets.

Mardi Gras Began Early In 2013 Because Of The Super Bowl

This year, America’s biggest sporting event coincided with its biggest party, and many have dubbed it “SuperGras.” Because the town was completely taken over by the NFL for Super Bowl weekend, New Orleans actually started Mardi Gras parades one week early on Jan. 19 to make up for the lost weekend.

Kelly Clarkson Will Ride On The ‘Largest Float In History’ In 2013

American Idol alum Kelly Clarkson will not only host a major concert at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome this year, but she will also reign as celebrity grand marshal of the Krewe of Endymion, riding on what the krewe claims will be the largest float in Mardi Gras history. The $1.2 million 330-foot spectacle will hold 230 riders across eight sections, each dedicated to different features of the former Pontchartrain Beach amusement park. Other celebrities expected at Mardi Gras 2013 include Harry Connick, Jr., Gary Sinise, Mariska Hargitay and bands like Better Than Ezra and Sister Hazel.

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