12 facts you might not know about Mardi Gras festival

17 Feb 2022

Celebrations Events

Kick off Lent with Mardi Gras. Learn about the spectacular festival and throw your own Mardi Gras party

Mardi Gras is truly a feast for the senses — a carnival of vibrant colours, flamboyant costumes, and impressive parades. With a long, rich history as mysterious as the festival’s masquerade balls, there aren’t many celebrations as iconic as Mardi Gras. Whether you’re new to the world of Mardi Gras or just want to understand the festival a little better, here are some facts to get you in the carnival spirit…

Woman holding a Mardi Gras mask

The wonders of Mardi Gras festival

1. Mardi Gras translates to “Fat Tuesday” in French 

Ever thought to yourself, what does Mardi Gras mean? Well, Mardi Gras means literally ‘Fat Tuesday’ in French. Fat Tuesday is another word for Shrove Tuesday — which makes sense due to the tradition of eating rich, fatty foods before Lent. This means that Mardi Gras is the day before Ash Wednesday and 47 days before Easter. In the tradition of eating indulgent food ahead of Lent, food and drink is a huge part of Mardi Gras — there are even traditional Mardi Gras cakes and cocktails.

2. Mardi Gras will be on 1st March 2022

The date of Mardi Gras changes from year to year. This year, Mardi Gras will be kicking off March as well as Lent! Mark it in your calendar and see what events are happening near you this year.

3. Mardi Gras also refers to a longer period of festivity 

Though Mardi Gras is technically just one day, the festival season stretches from Twelfth Night (the last night of Christmas) to Ash Wednesday. In some cities, Mardi Gras parades pop up throughout this period. There’s a particular tradition of celebrating on the Monday — otherwise known as Lundi Gras.

4. The official Mardi Gras festival colours are purple, gold, and green

This has been the case since 1872 when Grand Duke Alexai Alexandrovich of Russia visited New Orleans during carnival season. Residents were told to drape their balconies in purple, gold, and green to welcome the Grand Duke. Purple is said to symbolise justice, while green represents faith, and gold is power. If you’re at a Mardi Gras event, you’re bound to see masks, costumes, and decorations featuring these popular celebratory colours.

Mardi Gras hat and masks in green, purple, and gold

5. The first Mardi Gras was celebrated in Mobile, Alabama

When the French-Canadian explorer Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville arrived in Mobile on Fat Tuesday in 1699, he originally named it Point du Mardi Gras. By 1711, the parading of a papier-mache bull ushered in what we now call Carnival. Masks made an appearance in 1830. People still celebrate Mardi Gras in Mobile with lots of decorations, booze, family, and parades.

6. Mardi Gras was helped by a secret society

From the 1700s, Mardi Gras was frequently banned because of the rowdy, drunken parties that inevitably took place. It looked like Mardi Gras would always face opposition, that is, until 1857, when a New Orleans secret society called the Mistick Krewe of Comus gave the festival a much better reputation. The society replaced chaotic parties with organised parades and balls which helped it get more support.

7. More than 70 secret societies or ‘Krewes’ are now involved in Mardi Gras in New Orleans

On parade days, each Krewe will present their float created in line with their chosen theme. Some Krewes include Krewe of Bacchus, Krewe of Zulu, and Krewe of Rex. Membership to the five earliest clubs — Comus, Momus, Twelfth Night, Rex, and Proteus — was extremely exclusive and only open to the elites.

8. Krewes select royalty each year

Every year, the krewes select a king and queen of Mardi Gras. The selection method varies between clubs. While some krewes hold random drawings, others invite a celebrity guest to be their king or queen. Some krewes even have special names for their royalty, such as Sargon, Chief, and Queen Guinevere.

9. In New Orleans, you can only wear masks on Mardi Gras

We associate Mardi Gras with wearing vibrantly decorated masks, but it is actually illegal to wear a mask on any other day of the year in New Orleans. Even on Mardi Gras, all masks must be removed by 6 pm.

Mardi Gras mask and cupcakes

10. If you’re on a float, then you must wear a mask

On the other hand, you must wear a mask if you’re a float rider (by law) in keeping with the traditional mystery of the event. When wearing a mask, carnival-goers are completely free to be whoever they want to be. In the past, this also meant that you could mingle with people from outside your class, free from society’s usual constraints.

11. King Cake is a traditional Mardi Gras dessert

These fried, doughy cakes are glazed in Mardi Gras colours and are usually circular and braided — making them look like a king’s crown. The best thing about King Cakes is that most cakes are baked with a baby figurine inside. Whoever finds the toy has to host the next big bash!

12. Mardi Gras is celebrated all around the world

When we think of Mardi Gras, most of us immediately think of New Orleans (and now Mobile). However, Mardi Gras and other pre-Lenten festivals continue to be celebrated in countries all over the world, particularly those with significant Roman Catholic populations.

For example, the Carnival of Brazil is a huge festival held the Friday before Ash Wednesday every year. In Italy, you can attend Venice’s Carnevale which starts in February and ends on Shrove Tuesday (pancake day).

Friends in masks toasting drinks at Mardi Gras

How to celebrate Mardi Gras festival at home

Even if there are no Mardi Gras parades and celebrations happening near you, you can still create your own carnival to enjoy with friends and family. Why not whip up some classic Mardi Gras cocktails? Try the famous Hurricane or the signature cocktail of New Orleans: the Sazerac. Keep your cupboards stocked with our Cacao Gin, Salted Caramel Vodka Liqueur and a couple of bottles of our Cocoa Beer. What’s a celebration without a cacao twist or two? Brush up on how to make some irresistible cocoa cocktails ahead of the big day.

The great thing about Mardi Gras is you already have your colour scheme: purple, gold, and green. Ask your friends to come in brightly coloured costumes and, of course, a mask. If you’re feeling really creative, you could even host your own mini parade — if you have one, gardens are great for transforming into a runway.

The kids will love all the glueing, painting, and assembling that goes into making their little float. Of course, a party isn’t a party without food. Cook up some traditional Mardi Gras dishes — think Shrimp Creole, Jambalaya, and Gumbo — and bake your own King Cake. End the day with a grand announcement — who is king or queen of Mardi Gras? Present them with a bottle of prosecco or a box of chocolates — only the best for royalty!

Let loose, have a dance, and enjoy the company of your loved ones. Why not make this the start of your Mardi Gras tradition?