which means "Fat Tuesday" in French, is the
grand finale of a long period of parties and celebration(also
referred to as the carnival season) that starts on January
6th, 12 days after Christmas. Mardi Gras Day is always
the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, and falls on February
8th in 2005.
The tradition of Mardi Gras in New Orleans began in the late 1600's by French explorers who held celebrations of the holiday on the banks of the Mississippi river. The tradition continues through today and has even spread to many other areas of the southern U.S. However, New Orleans is still the epicenter of Mardi Gras celebrations in the U.S. and attracts millions of people each year to enjoy the festivities. In fact, on Mardi Gras Day it is not unusual to find more than a million people packed into just a few city blocks of the French Quarter in New Orleans.
There are about 70 parades held in the New Orleans area for Mardi Gras, and each parade is put on by a krewe(local clubs). Each parade consists of anywhere from a dozen to over 50 floats and members of each krewe dress up in costumes and masks and ride on the different floats. While on the floats, the krewe members will throw beads, doubloons, and various other trinkets out to the crowds lined up along the parade route. After the parade, private balls are held for the krewe members.
"Throw me something mister!" is one of the chants you'll here from the crowds at Mardi Gras parades, where for a few weeks plastic beads, metal doubloons, and other trinkets become prized possessions. People use a variety of techniques to improve the amount of beads they get. Some set up ladders along the parade route early in the morning. Others try to sneak or muscle their way to the front of the crowd, while some will get on a friends shoulders and go right up to the krewe member on the float trying to get more or better beads.
A Mardi Gras party would not be a party without the King Cake. The King Cake came from Little Christmas or the Twelfth Night, celebrated twelve nights after Christmas. On this night, gifts are exchanged and a King Cake is brought representing the three Kings who had brought gifts to the baby Jesus. This cake is basically a large sweet roll covered with a sweet icing sprinkled with sugar dyed the traditional colors of Mardi Gras, green, purple and gold. Some of these cakes are cream cheese filled. Beads and coins can decorate the top of the cake and lace the edges. A miniature baby is baked inside the cake. The person who finds the baby is to be the host of the next king cake party or buy the next cake. This is one way to keep the merrymaking alive during Mardi Gras.