Mardi Gras conjures images in our minds of beads flying through the air, rowdy celebration, brightly colored parades and people, and happy faces. While this may be what the Mardi Gras of today is like, how did it begin?
The first Mardi Gras in North America did not occur under American rule but more accurately under French rule. In 1704, France’s King Louis XIV ordered the brothers Iberville and Bienville LeMoyne to sail from France to defend their territories, which include the areas that now include Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Upon arriving, the LeMoyne brothers found the mouth of a river known as the Mississippi River, and sailed upstream for a few miles until they located the perfect place to build a colony. This area was designated Point du Mardi Gras.
From these origins a culture of French ancestors known as the Creole population of the Bayous began, and each year thousands of people become honorary Creoles during Mardi Gras celebrations held throughout the United States.
Mardi Gras, which translates in French to “Fat Tuesday,” officially begins the day before Ash Wednesday. The day is also commonly referred to as Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day and can occur anytime between February 3rd and March 9th, depending on when Easter is celebrated that particular year. Originally a one day event, as the popularity of the occasion has grown in some parts of the world, and so has the length of the celebration. The Mardi Gras in Deadwood festivities of 2013 will be February 8th and 9th.
One of those celebrations is the Rio de Janeiro Carnival that is held in Brazil, for two weeks prior to the fasting period in the Christian calendar known as Lent. Brazil’s Carnival is similar to the American celebration in many ways – lots of food, parades and festivity, it also incorporates much Samba dancing, giving the party a distinctive Brazilian flare.
Many other locations in the United States hold similar celebrations in the same time frame, including Deadwood, South Dakota. Outside of the States, other countries have also embraced this reason for festivity including Venice in Italy, Mazatlan in Mexico, and throughout many cities in Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
Mardi Gras today is about people from all walks of life coming together to celebrate the things that make them different, but with the mutual understanding that everyone wants to be able to celebrate their individuality unified under the umbrella of “Mardi Gras.”
So no matter where you may find yourself this Mardi Gras season, turn up the Zydeco music, eat some jambalaya and take a few moments to celebrate your own unique qualities and how you fit into the big tapestry of life.