Welcome to Fat Tuesday, y’all! Our longtime readers might remember me professing my unending love for all things Mardi Gras last year, but I’m so happy to be sharing the love with all of y’all joining us more recently, too!
Growing up in Mobile, Mardi Gras was a big part of our February (don’t tell, but I even like it better than Valentine’s Day!), and though I’ll be spending Fat Tuesday in Arizona, I’ll be doing my best to track down a king cake even in the dessert! Because of my far-from-NOLA current locale, I’m even more thankful I get to celebrate with you ladies on the blog! So grab a MoonPie (best served after a stint in the microwave for 7 seconds), and let’s go over a few Mardi Gras traditions you might never have heard of!
Source for first two; source for third
Let’s start with Krewes. Mardi Gras wouldn’t happen without them, as Krewes are the groups/organizations that put on the balls and parades. Each Krewe meets throughout the year to discuss and build their floats in secret, and on the day of their parade, they ride wearing masks. Some Krewes have been around since the 1800’s, while others have been in existence for just a few years; in some, membership is limited to only relatives of previous members, and in others, anyone who can pay the membership fee can join.
Each Krewe holds their own parade leading up to Mardi Gras, each with a unique theme, and two Krewes — Rex and Zulu — hold parades on Fat Tuesday itself. Aside from a captain, each Krewe has a royal party headed by a king and queen (which I’ve always wanted to be!) that preside over the parade and floats.
Oh Mardi Gras colors, you’re so ugly and so fabulous all at the same time! Purple, green, and gold is the official Mardi Gras’ color palette, and can be seen on everything from costumes to beads. In true Southern form, even the colors themselves have symbolic meaning: purple stands for justice, green for faith, and gold for power.
Beads are still the most popular throw from floats, but doubloons have a history of their own, too! When we moved out of my childhood home, I can remember finding boxes full of these brightly colored coins – boy, did we have a collection. Originally used as currency, today’s doubloons are two-sided coins thrown from the parade floats (keep an eye out for them — these sucker can be dangerous!). They are imprinted with the Krewe’s name, emblem, and founding date on one side, and the current year and theme of the parade on the other.
Krewe doubloons are highly collectable and can create quite a ruckus in the crowd!
I know quite a lot about Mardi Gras traditions, but The Golden Nugget is new to me! Originally thrown by the Zulu Krewe, these coconuts are thought to be the most sought-after throw in any Mardi Gras parade. In the early 1900’s, Zulu members threw coconuts (yep, just plain old coconuts) from their floats as a cheaper alternative to glass beads. Today, the coconuts are drained and hand painted either in gold or black and white.
Don’t be scared, my friends! In 1988, the City of New Orleans banned Zulu riders from throwing the coconuts from the floats and demanded the “throws” be handed to the crowds, making them even harder to catch and all the more valuable to spectators!
Although I’ve never seen this next tradition in person, I can imagine it is a fantastic show! The Flambeaux tradition dates back to the 1800’s when New Orleans did not have electric street lights to light the night parades. Traditionally, the Flambeaux walked in front of the floats holding large torches, and put on their own show in front of the riders, dancing and doing tricks with the torches. Today, a few Krewes still roll out at night with the Flambeaux leading the way.
Last, but certainly not least, we have Mardi Gras balls! Similar to my love for debutante cotillions, the Mardi Gras ball is one of my favorite aspects of Mardi Gras! Each year, Krewes host elaborate formal balls during Mardi Gras season. This is the time when kings and queens are first introduced, and the queens get to wear the most fabulous costumes! The queens’ stunning gowns, sparkling tiaras, and over-the-top collars are still my very favorite part of the Mobile Carnival Museum!
The original Mardi Gras balls were such important social affairs that Krewes had the invitations die cast in Paris and sent to New Orleans – fancy! Today, some Krewes still hold private invitation-only balls, while others have started allowing anyone to purchase tickets.
Well, now that I’m WAY too sad that I’m not spending today in Mobile (or Nola!), tell me: What’s your favorite Mardi Gras tradition? Have you ever caught a golden nugget?!
Want to learn more? Check out last year’s Traditions + Inspiration, Inspiration Board, and Color Palette Finds!