Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Stories Behind 5 Popular Mardi Gras Traditions

When someone mentions Mardi Gras, there are certain things that immediately come to mind. This flamboyant holiday is filled with familiar symbols and traditions. (Hopefully for you, one of those traditions is attending the Lake of the Ozarks Mardi Gras Pub Crawl!) Here's a closer look at some of the things that are always present in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, and you're very likely to see when you take part in Missouri's largest pub crawl

First of all, we need to explain what a "Krewe" is because this keeps popping up in our research. A Krewe is an organization that is responsible for creating the parties and parades happening for Mardi Gras in New Orleans. It is made up of several members and a captain, and these people work throughout the year in secret preparing for the big celebration. There are many Krewes around today, but the Rex Krewe dates all the way back to the 1800's. They seem to be involved in the creation of many Mardi Gras traditions.    

Purple, Green, and Gold
Rex is credited with making these particular colors symbols of Mardi Gras. During the first Rex parade in 1872, the King of the Carnival proclaimed that all balconies should be draped in purple, green, and gold. Rex founders believed that "a king must have a kingdom, and a kingdom needs a flag." Due to the fact that many country's flags used three colors, that's the amount they decided to choose. 

"Heraldry" states that both metals and colors were needed, and rules that determine a coat of arms say that only 5 colors are acceptable: red, blue, purple, green, and black. Purple and gold are both royal colors fit for a king, and our best guess about the green is that they just liked the way it all looked together. The Rex parade of 1892 had the theme "Symbolism of Colors," and this is when the Mardi Gras colors were assigned their meanings. 

  • Purple = Justice
  • Green = Faith
  • Gold = Power

Beads are the most popular thing thrown for Mardi Gras across the country, but in New Orleans, a wide variety of things are thrown from parade floats in addition to beads. Small trinkets such as stuffed animals, small toys, doubloons, and plastic cups (aka New Orleans dinnerware!) are all used. We didn't really find a reason for these throws other than that's what you do when you're on a parade float! "Flashing" for these throws is NOT considered tradition in New Orleans, but when inhibitions are lowered and people want to draw attention to get beads, it's just something that seems to happen.  

These 2-sided throws have become collector's items in New Orleans. In 1884, Rex began throwing medallions instead of trinkets. Those medallions are represented by doubloons today. One Krewe in the mid-1900's began having doubloons made that featured their emblem and founding date on one side and the current year and parade theme on the other. Now, most Krewes have their own doubloons made to throw but be warned, these are so popular and sought-after, you could get your hands trampled trying to pick them up off of the street! (Maybe we should start making these each year for the Lake of the Ozarks Mardi Gras Pub Crawl featuring the bars in place of Krewes!) 

King Cake
A King Cake is an oval-shaped coffee cake, braided and covered in icing with purple, green, and gold sugar. Many bakeries now add fillings to these cakes like cream cheese, nuts, and fruit. The one thing that must always be inside of a King Cake is a small toy baby. The person that receives the piece of cake containing that baby is automatically the one that has to provide the next King Cake. 

This tradition represents the belief that according to Christian faith, baby Jesus first showed himself to the three wise men and the world on January 6th. That is the date that Mardi Gras, aka King Cake season, begins.     

Mardi Gras masks add an element of mystery and intrigue to the celebration. Originally, wearing a mask during this holiday allowed a person to let their guard down and feel free to have a good time. This allowed different classes of society to mingle with each other. Today it is a fun and beautiful tradition that still allows a person to feel like they can be a bit more free to act out more than usual, providing a sense of anonymity. Float riders in New Orleans are actually required to wear masks, not because of tradition, but because it's a law!

There's a little peek into why some of the things you see and do for Mardi Gras exist. Now, which of these things will you incorporate into your own 2018 Lake of the Ozarks Mardi Gras experience? It's not too early to start planning. The biggest party at the Lake of the Ozarks will happen on Saturday, February 17, 2018. We can't wait to see all of you there in your finest purple, green, and gold! 

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