History of Mardi Gras has deep ties with Catholic Church

Mechele R. Dillard's picture

Everyone has heard of Mardi Gras, but many people find themselves asking, "What is Mardi Gras, anyway?"

Many people hear “Mardi Gras,” and they automatically think of New Orleans, beads and parades. But, the history of Mardi Gras is long, and may go back thousands of years, according to some sources, perhaps to the ancient Roman Lupercalia festival, held in mid-February. But, the general consensus on today’s Mardi Gras celebration is that it dates to 1094 Italy, with “Carnevale,” or “farewell to the flesh” in Latin, likely created by the Catholic Church as an event to incorporate the pagan Lupercalia festival into religious celebration, so as not to alienate new and potential believers as the Church expanded. The celebration was then, as it is today, the opening celebration for Ash Wednesday, the official beginning of Catholic Lent—40 days of fasting before Easter.

Most people, at least in the United States, equate Mardi Gras with New Orleans. However, the event has a long tradition all around the globe. In fact, most anywhere that was strongly influenced by the Catholic faith when the lands were originally colonized keeps the annual celebration of Mardi Gras although, like for many of the New Orleans partiers, much of the history of the celebration is lost to secular tradition. And, in different cultures, the event has evolved to reflect local tradition and beliefs. For example, in the Caribbean, Mardi Gras celebrates African and island culture, morphing from the original French celebration after the abolishment of slavery and a growth of the free black population in the area. Also, in many countries around the world, the Mardi Gras season begins with Epiphany, on Jan. 6, celebrating the three wise men and the gifts they presented to the baby Jesus, and ends at exactly midnight on Fat Tuesday.

The French recognized the celebration by the Middle Ages, and named the celebration Mardi Gras—“Fat Tuesday” in French, so named from the tradition of eating a slaughtered calf on the final day of Carnival. New Orleans, with its strong French history, eventually evolved into the Mardi Gras center of the United States. French explorers brought the celebration to what would become America. Mardi Gras was later banned, while the Spanish were in power in the area, but was later revived by the local Creole population. The modern New Orleans celebration evolved with parades, elaborate costumes and parties, parties, parties, all of which are highly anticipated and recognized as a keys of the modern-day Mardi Gras event.

For more history on the modern tradition of Mardi Gras, as well as history on the New Orleans area, visit AOL Travel.

Read about Mardi Gras 2011 on Huliq.com:
New Orleans Prepares for Huge Mardi Gras Crowds as Rio Opens Carnival

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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