Music greets eager ears as whirls of purple, green and gold parade through the streets of New Orleans. Giant floats toss long beads and toys into the crowds, cheering as they catch these small trinkets in their hands, a tradition since the late 19th century. There is plenty of food to be had, whether one prefers sitting on the ground with friends or having a picnic as the parade passes through. Every year, locals and visitors come together to enjoy the largest Mardi Gras celebration held in Louisiana, which was given the name Mardi Gras City for the various celebrations and parades that take place there every year.
Mardi Gras, known as Fat Tuesday in French, honours the end of the Carnival season observed by many Roman Catholics that starts at Epiphany on January 6th and ends just before Ash Wednesday. The traditional colours of the New Orleans Mardi Gras was designed by Rex, the King of Carnival in 1892 and allotted meanings to all three: purple (justice), green (faith), and gold (power). Throughout history, all three colours were used by the Catholic Church and thus continued to be used for Mardi Gras holds Catholic origins.
It is a season of floats, masquerade balls, and king cake parties. As part of the winter social season, the New Orleans Carnival season starts as soon as January 6th known as “Twelfth Night” however, the extended weekend before Mardi Gras (February 13th to 17th) is when most visitors come, doubling the population of New Orleans. During the last five days of the season is when the largest and most lavish parades take place. Many events and Carnival celebrations are hosted throughout the city, as well as in its encompassing communities. The most popular parades include Zulu, Endymion, Bacchus, Rex and all the celebrations organised by the New Orleans Social clubs. The Uptown and Mid-City parade routes are family-oriented, with activities designed children as a chance to be part of the parade. Each year in New Orleans, krewes are responsible for electing Rex, the king of the carnival.
Each Mardi Gras Parade Krewe has a distinctive history and theme which inspired some of the floats in the parades. While there are many that have been around for several decades, others have existed for just a few years. The first Mardi Gras parade was introduced in New Orleans on February 24th, 1857 by the Krewe of Comus. Ever since then the krewes began parading through New Orleans a century ago, parade floats have played a major role in Mardi Gras history. Some floats are beautifully designed as art pieces, while others are satirical for comedy. Floats are made all year round by krewes in “secret dens” and thousands of dollars are spent for the whole creation process.
Food plays a huge role in the celebrations, especially the tradition of king cakes. The sugary cakes have a hidden small plastic baby doll inside; the one who finds it is declared “king” and must acquire the next cake or have the honour of hosting the next king cake party. Between January 6th and Fat Tuesday more than 500,000 king cakes are sold each year in New Orleans and thousands more are shipped overseas.
New Orleans Mari Gras may be renowned throughout the world for being the largest celebration and promotes huge tourism for the city. It may be enjoyed by people of all ages, though it has various family-themed events for small children to enjoy from the parade routes to museums tours.
How does colour play a role in carnival celebrations and what is the significance of its symbolism?