Mardi Gras History

nolaMardi Gras was celebrated in Europe long before the settling of the New World. Louisiana was founded by the French, and the New Orleans Carnival tradition was brought to the Crescent City with the first colonists. After a brief rule by the Spanish, France regained control and soon after, in 1803, Napoleon sold Louisiana to the United States. The 85 years of combined French and Spanish rule resulted in a strong European cast to the settlements established in this part of the country, which were carried through by their Creole inheritors.

Literally meaning Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras is the day before Ash Wednesday—the beginning of Lent. The Mardi Gras season officially starts each year on January 6, or Twelfth Night, also called the Feast of the Epiphany. The actual date of Mardi Gras falls on a different day each year but always 46 days before Easter. It can fall as early as February 3 or as late as March 9.

In 1856 a group of transplanted citizens from the city of Mobile, who were members of a marching/ball society called the Cowbellions, met and decided to form a carnival society of their own here in New Orleans. They created a display consisting of marchers in elaborate papier-mâché costumes, and floats. They fashioned themselves as a royal court in the traditions of Old England, even adapting the word “crew” in Chaucerian fashion so that it came out, forever afterward, as “krewe”. They chose to represent themselves with the offspring of the Greek god Bacchus and the sorceress Circe, as filtered through the poetry of John Milton. Thus was born the Mystick Krewe of Comus.