Mardi Gras: A historical view

Brought to Louisiana by French explorers in 1699, Mardi Gras is an observance of Carnival, an old season of celebration between Christmas and Lent. During this time, Christians party hard before they must give up food or bad habits for 40 days, beginning on Ash Wednesday. New Orleans Creoles celebrated the season at masked balls in the mid-1700s. One hundred years later, the first parades were organized. In modern times, the streets of the southern city’s French Quarters are packed with people parading around with alcohol in search of beaded necklaces in the traditional colors of green, gold and purple. In rural Cajun communities, people in costume ride from house to house on horseback begging for ingredients to make gumbo, a thick, strongly flavored soup, while other neighbors make preparations for a party. The riders present the crowd with the gumbo at sunset. While Mardi Gras is celebrated throughout the world, the event in New Orleans has become known as the biggest free party on earth. The festivities add to the city’s mystique, which aides in attracting tourists. Mardi Gras draws more than 3 million people to parades and generate approximately $1 billion for the local economy.

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