St. Louis is celebrating Mardi Gras again this year. We are praying for good weather, but you can never be too sure during a St. Louis February! Nonetheless, the tradition and corresponding party have me asking, "When did Mardi Gras actually start?" Well, here is a brief history on just that!
Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday, is a celebration that has been enjoyed for centuries by people all over the world. The origins of this festive event can be traced back to ancient civilizations, and it has evolved throughout history to become the colorful and boisterous celebration that we know today.
As a pagan holiday known as Saturnalia, Mardi Gras's origins may be traced all the way back to ancient Rome. The conclusion of harvest was celebrated during this celebration in honor of Saturn. Indulgences in food and drink and many sorts of entertainment were enjoyed by everybody throughout this time of celebration.
As Christianity spread throughout Europe, the church incorporated many of the traditional pagan celebrations into Christian holidays. Mardi Gras, for example, became associated with the Christian holiday of Shrove Tuesday, the day before the start of Lent.
In Europe, only the upper classes could afford to celebrate Mardi Gras throughout the Middle Ages. Guests at these extravagant events and masquerade balls would dress to the nines and don masks and costumes. These parties were a chance for the affluent to show off their riches and prestige by being hosted in magnificent palaces and castles.
French-Canadian adventurer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, built New Orleans in the late 1700s. He planned the first Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans in 1857.
As Mardi Gras became more popular in New Orleans, other cities across the United States began to adopt the tradition. Today, Mardi Gras is celebrated in cities across the country, including Mobile, Alabama, which claims to be the birthplace of Mardi Gras in the United States. Closer to home, St. Louis has a large Mardi Gras celebration of its own!
Mardi Gras masks are definitely an iconic part of the festival. Masks used to be worn by revelers in the early days of the festival to hide their identity. Today, masks are mostly used for decoration and to contribute to the party mood.
Mardi Gras has definitely evolved from its pagan roots in ancient Rome. Today, it is a dynamic and thrilling festival that draws people from across the globe to celebrate life and excess before Lent. Mardi Gras is a must-see in New Orleans or any other city that celebrates it!
For Mardi Gras festivities right here in the Lou, make sure to check out the Soulard Mardi Gras website: http://stlmardigras.org
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