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The History of Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras means "Fat Tuesday" in French and is celebrated the day before Ash
Wednesday as a last "fling" prior to the 40 days of Lent which precede Easter. Lent is a
word that comes from the Middle English word "lente" which means "springtime" - so
named for the season of the year in which it usually occurs. Historically, Lenten fasting
became mandatory, especially abstinence from eating meat. The word "carnival" comes
from an old Italian word that means to "go without meat" or "removal of meat." Festivals
like Mardi Gras sprang up throughout parts of Europe as a means to prepare for the
coming times of self-denial. The three days before
Ash Wednesday is also known as "Shrovetide," where shrove is an Old English word
meaning "to repent." In England, the Tuesday just before Ash Wednesday is called
Shrove Tuesday and is celebrated by eating of rich food, that won't be used during Lent.

Mardi Gras was first celebrated in North America in 1699. Pierre LeMoyne D'Iberville and
his band of French explorers were camping near a bayou at the mouth of the
Mississippi river. Being homesick, they remembered it was Mardi Gras time back home.
So, they
opened a bottle of wine, toasted to the king of France, and named their campsite "Bayou
de Mardi Gras."

Mobile was actually the first city on the Gulf Coast to celebrate Mardi Gras. Random
celebrations popped up during the 1830s, but by 1840, there were well-established
Krewes holding parades and balls. The celebration quickly spread all along the Gulf
Coast area.

Here in Mississippi, Biloxi was the first city to hold Mardi Gras celebrations. That all
changed in 1929 when other cities joined in.

The oldest Mardi Gras group here on the coast is The Gulf Coast Carnival Association.
The group was chartered in 1946 as the Biloxi Carnival and Literary Association. By
1949, the group took on the name it now goes by.

Nowadays many prepare for Mardi Gras all year long, designing elaborate costumes
and floats. Mardi Gras is an incredible time. It really must be experienced, being
something so different to each person who joins in the fun.

Mardi Gras Colors
Selected in 1872, the official colors of Mardi Gras are purple, green and gold. While they
were probably chosen simply because they looked good together, a meaning to each in
1892 parade entitled symbolism of colors.

Purple represents justice, it's the Queen's color, and represents the frankincense that
one of the wise men brought to the baby Jesus.

Green stands for faith, it's the Mardi Gras Captain's color and represents the myrrh that
was given to the Christ child.  Gold signifies power and it's the King's color.

The Tradition of Mardi Gras King Cakes
The Mardi Gras season officially begins on the Twelfth Night of Christmas, January 6th,
also known to Christians as Epiphany which marks the coming of the wise men who
brought gifts to the Christ Child. It is also called Little Christmas on the Twelfth Night
because it is celebrated twelve nights after Christmas. This day has come to be known
as King's Day. Since the 300's, the holy day has honored the meeting of the Three Wise
Men with the infant Jesus. King Cakes have become part of the celebration to symbolize
the finding of baby Jesus. This very popular custom is still celebrated today in the
making of the King's Cake representing
the three kings who brought gifts. In the early King Cakes, a bean, pea, or coin was
hidden inside the cake. The bean, pea and the coin have now been replaced by a small
plastic baby to symbolize the Christ Child. Traditionally, King Cakes are oval-shaped to
show unity of all Christians and to portray the circular route used by the kings to get to
the Christ Child. The circular route was taken to confuse King Herod who was trying to
follow the wise men so he could kill the Christ Child. King Cakes are made of a
cinnamon filled dough in the shape of a hollow circle. The cake is topped with a
delicious glazed topping and then sprinkled with colored sugar by using the carnival
colors of green, yellow, and purple. Some bakers also decorate the cakes in red to
symbolize the life of Jesus. As a King Cake is cut, each person awaits anxiously for his
piece to locate the small baby. The person who finds the baby is
obligated to bring a King Cake to the next seasonal celebration. In prior times, the
person who got the hidden piece was declared King for the day or was said to have
good luck in the coming year. Many carnival clubs still choose the king or queen of their
carnival by this tradition. King Cake season ends on Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent
begins.

Doubloons and Beads
The tradition of throwing doubloons at parade-goers came from Europe. Krewe
members threw sugar-coated almonds called dragees to the crowd. That tradition gave
birth to the traditional parade cry, "Throw me something, Mister!" Legend says that after
running out of other things to toss to the crowd, a carnival king reached into his pocket
and started throwing coins at the crowd. Now, the coins carry the different krewe names
and themes.

As for beads , legend says that tradition started after a Mardi Gras queen took off her
pearl necklace and tossed it to the crowd.  Members riding the Gulf Coat Carnival
Association's floats will throw more than half a million beads during its two parades.
Gold is the most popular color beads. They bring you good luck. White beads are for
kisses.
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