Mardi Gras Essay, Research Paper
It s marvelous, magical, mirthful, magnificent. It s Mardi Gras. After Christmas each
year, the people of southern Louisiana begin their celebration of Carnival, an exuberant
explosion of parades and parties that reaches its grand climax on Mardi Gras.
Many people think that Mardi Gras is just another name for Carnival, but the terms have
different meanings. Mardi Gras, which is French for Fat Tuesday , refers to only one day.
Carnival, on the other hand, refers to the entire period from Twelfth Night (January 6) until
midnight on Mardi Gras. Because Mardi Gras comes exactly forty-six days before Easter, it can
fall on any Tuesday from February 3 to March 9. This year it is on February 11.
Mardi Gras is not just something to watch, it s something to be part of. You can pretend
to be someone different and live a fantasy for a day. It s a time for children and grown-ups
alike. An entire family can dress crazy and not stand out in a crowd. It s a time for people of all
ages, races, and religions to come together in a spirit of goodwill.
When people celebrate Mardi Gras, they are carrying on a tradition that dates back to
ancient times. Spring festivals were held to ensure the fertility of animals and crops. Mardi
Gras came to America when some hardy French explorers landed near the mouth of the
Mississippi River in 1699. Their leader, Pierre le Moyne, Sieur d Iberville, noticed that it was
March 3. Back home, people were celebrating Mardi Gras, so he named the spot Pointe du
Mardi Gras in honor of the day.
By the time Spain took possession of Louisiana in 1766, Mardi Gras was an established
tradition . But the Spanish banned the custom of wearing masks on the street, and Mardi Gras
was driven indoors where it was celebrated privately by the Creoles (the descendants of early
French and Spanish settlers).
In 1803, two years after taking it back from Spain, France sold Louisiana to the United
States. The Americans descended on New Orleans. Creoles did not like the newcomers,
whose language and manners were different from their own. The Americans, on the other hand,
didn t approve of the French-speaking Creoles and their customs. They tried to suppress Mardi
Gras, but the Creoles persisted and, in 1838, organized the first real street parade. In the end,
Mardi Gras worked its magic on the newcomers.
Comus, the oldest, most secretive Carnival organization, invented the word krewe , and
set the pattern of choosing a krewe name from mythology. With its parade of thematic floats, a
private ball, mock royalty, and secret membership, Comus gave a form to Mardi Gras that has
endured ever since. Today there are more than one hundred krewes.
Every year, each krewe chooses a King and Queen to preside over its activities. Being
chosen is considered a great honor. Even though it means wearing tights in public, there is
hardly a man in New Orleans who would turn down the chance to be king. And, of course, all
young girls dream of becoming a queen.
Some famous krewes are Rex, Bacchus, Endymion, and Zulu. But the krewes are not the
only organizations involved with Mardi Gras. There are also Indians! Tribes with such names
as the Wild Magnolias, the Golden Eagles, the Yellow Pocahontas, and the White Eagles parade
through their neighborhoods dancing to hypnotic music and hand-clapping rhythms..
King cakes are oval confections decorated with carnival colors. Each cake contains a
small baby doll to symbolize the finding of baby Jesus by the Magi. Whoever finds the baby
must host the next party. King cake parties are so popular that more than 500,000 king cakes are
consumed every year in the New Orleans area. Although New Orleanians love parties, they love
parades even more.
Beginning several weeks before Mardi Gras, nearly seventy large parades take place
around New Orleans. The parades feature large, tractor-drawn floats that sometimes tower two
stories high–making Carnival in New Orleans the world-famous spectacle it is today. Most
Carnival parades follow the same pattern. The largest parades may have as many as five
thousand participants. Marching bands, dancers, clowns and motorcycle units all participate in
Every parade is the result of a great deal of work by many people. As soon as Mardi
Gras is over, krewe members make plans for the next year s parades. It takes a full year to
complete a float . The work is done in massive warehouses called dens .
In most places, people stand calmly on the sidelines, chatting with one another as they
enjoy the passing parade. But not in New Orleans. There, float riders are greeted by roaring
crowds shouting Throw me something, mister! . Maskers on the floats respond by flinging
beads and other trinkets into the sea of upstretched hands while the crowd grabs and scrambles
to catch the trinkets. The trinkets include strings of cheap beads, Frisbees, stuffed animals,
bikini underwear, giant toothbrushes, collector cards, plastic cups and an assortment of
doubloons. However, the most coveted throw of all is a decorated coconut, symbol of Zulu.
The pleasure of participating in Carnival costs krewe members nearly $35 million every
year. They spend 18.6 million on throws alone. Float members have no trouble explaining their
generosity. When they look into the crowd and see the happy faces and the wonderful mood,
they know they are doing something good. The governments of New Orleans and surrounding
communities issue parade permits, coordinate parade routes, provide police and sanitation
services, but they do not contribute any funding. Commercial and political advertising are
banned. There s no such thing as an authorized Mardi Gras logo. Mardi Gras belongs to
But like Cinderella, when the clock strikes twelve, Carnival is over and the streets must
be cleared. Midnight comes, ushering in Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season of penitence
and fasting. Everyone is tired but the spirit of Mardi Gras lingers in the air.
Although more than a million people come together to celebrate Carnival, there are few
incidents to disturb the peace. That s because, with an instinct bred into their unique culture, the
people of Southern Louisiana share their courteous, generous spirit with everyone at Carnival.
Just as throwing beads and trinkets reminds us that we all have gifts for one another, the spirit of
Mardi Gras shows how people of all ages, races, religions and backgrounds can get along
together. So, come on down. Sit on my front porch. Have some red beans and rice. We ll pass
a good time! It s America s biggest party.