Mardi Gras

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Carnival celebrates all sorts of merriments and enjoyments that might be denied in the Lenten season that follows. Carnival festivities historically emphasized feasting, social equality and even rule-breaking, before entering into a Lenten routine of fasting and penitential abstinence.

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  • When was the first Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans?

    Q: When was the first Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans?

    A: The modern-style Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans took place in 1857, with members of the newly formed Mistick Krewe of Comus presenting the city's first themed parade, which included floats and other features that are now recognizable as a Mardi Gras celebration. Prior to this, Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans had mostly been informal, and events such as a fatal balcony collapse in 1854 and a spate of violence by masked revelers in 1855 caused a local Creole newspaper to declare that the city's Mardi Gras celebrations were officially over. The 1857 parade resurrected New Orleans' Mardi Gras celebrations and helped to form traditions and set the tone for parades and events that are still part of the holiday festivities.
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  • Why do people eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday?

    Q: Why do people eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday?

    A: Pancakes are a traditional food on Shrove Tuesday, which is also known as Pancake Tuesday, because pancakes can be made with ingredients that were traditionally forbidden during Lent, including fat, sugar and eggs. Shrove Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday, and, like Mardi Gras, this day is designed to prepare Catholics and Christians for the Lenten season of fasting that starts on Ash Wednesday.
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  • What is Lundi Gras?

    Q: What is Lundi Gras?

    A: Lundi Gras is part of New Orleans' Mardi Gras celebrations; in French, "Lundi" means "Monday," making this the Fat Monday predecessor of Fat Tuesday. The event can be seen as a kick-off to Mardi Gras celebrations, with a number of parades and events to help build anticipation for the big day.
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  • What does Carnival celebrate?

    Q: What does Carnival celebrate?

    A: Carnival celebrates all sorts of merriments and enjoyments that might be denied in the Lenten season that follows. Carnival festivities historically emphasized feasting, social equality and even rule-breaking, before entering into a Lenten routine of fasting and penitential abstinence.
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  • What item was originally hidden in a king cake?

    Q: What item was originally hidden in a king cake?

    A: While modern versions typically include a tiny plastic figurine of a baby, historical versions of the Mardi Gras king cake may have included coins, beans, peas or nuts. Whether a bean, such as a fava bean, or a plastic or porcelain figurine is used, the trinket is intended to represent the baby Jesus in commemoration of the holiday of Epiphany, which marks the day when the baby Jesus was presented to the Three Kings.
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  • Do U.S. cities other than New Orleans have Mardi Gras celebrations?

    Q: Do U.S. cities other than New Orleans have Mardi Gras celebrations?

    A: While the New Orleans Mardi Gras celebration may be the most famous in the country, there are many other cities in the United States that celebrate Mardi Gras, including Biloxi, Mississippi; Mobile, Alabama; and Pensacola, Florida. These Mardi Gras celebrations are among the oldest in the country, some of which may even predate the Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans.
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  • Where did Mardi Gras originate?

    Q: Where did Mardi Gras originate?

    A: Though it is now a Christian and Catholic holiday, the exact origins of the celebration of the Carnival season may date back to a pre-Christian era in Ancient Greece or Rome, when pagan seasonal celebrations at this time of year were commonplace. The celebration of the specific Mardi Gras holiday as a Christian holiday may date back to medieval Europe during the Roman Catholic era, when the pagan festivals of Saturnalia and Lupercalia were likely repurposed for a new religious purpose. The process of converting a pre-existing holiday for new religious ideology was likely easier than simply banning the pagan festivals outright.
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  • Why do people throw beads during Mardi Gras parades?

    Q: Why do people throw beads during Mardi Gras parades?

    A: The practice of throwing or handing out beads during Mardi Gras parades dates back to the 1880s. At this time, the beads were an extension of an earlier tradition of throwing treats such as candied nuts into crowds. The exact origins of this practice are unclear, though some historians believe it may be related to a celebratory pagan ritual in which milled grain was thrown as a way of celebrating one's survival of a harsh winter.
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  • What was the first Mardi Gras krewe?

    Q: What was the first Mardi Gras krewe?

    A: In 1857, the Mistick Krewe of Comus became the first official Mardi Gras organization in New Orleans, setting the stage for generations of krewes to come and, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, even preventing Mardi Gras from becoming a mere violent street party. Though the original krewe no longer parades, the Comus organization is still active, producing a royal court each year.
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  • How many Mardi Gras parades take place in New Orleans?

    Q: How many Mardi Gras parades take place in New Orleans?

    A: The exact number of parades that take place in New Orleans during Mardi Gras may vary by year. According to the parade schedule published by the New Orleans Times-Picayune, there were about 90 parades scheduled over 15 days during the 2014 Carnival season, which begins on January 6 each year. On the official day of Mardi Gras, there were 12 parades scheduled to roll throughout the day, with the first beginning at 8 a.m.
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  • What other countries celebrate Mardi Gras?

    Q: What other countries celebrate Mardi Gras?

    A: Mardi Gras and Carnival are two similar holidays that celebrate the same period before Lent; these celebrations tend to take place in countries with cultural traditions influenced by Catholic and Christian religious practices. Some of these countries include Cape Verde, Trinidad and Tobago, Germany, Italy, Greece, Denmark, Russia, France and Brazil, which is home to the famous Rio Carnival.
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  • Why do people celebrate Mardi Gras?

    Q: Why do people celebrate Mardi Gras?

    A: People celebrate Mardi Gras for a variety of reasons that are typically motivated by their religious beliefs. For those who take part in a strict adherence to Lent, Mardi Gras is a way of enjoying excessive quantities of food and drink prior to a period of fasting and denial, with the idea being that the days of excess may make the period of denial easier to tolerate. Lent is a time of fasting and personal denial that is intended to prepare Christians for Easter, which is one of the most important holidays in this religious tradition.
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  • Who are the Twelfth Night Revelers of Mardi Gras?

    Q: Who are the Twelfth Night Revelers of Mardi Gras?

    A: The Twelfth Night Revelers are a New Orleans Mardi Gras organization, or krewe, that holds an annual masquerade ball on January 6, which is also known as Twelfth Night, to mark the official beginning of the Carnival season. This is the second oldest krewe in New Orleans, having made its debut with a parade in 1870; this parade was the first known instance of the practice of throws, or trinkets such as beads and coins, being thrown to the parade audience. In 1876, The Twelfth Night Revelers became the first krewe to focus solely on throwing a dance, or ball, rather than putting on parades and hosting other celebrations.
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  • Who are the Mardi Gras Indians?

    Q: Who are the Mardi Gras Indians?

    A: In the context of New Orleans' Mardi Gras celebrations, the term "Indians" refers to a traditional group of African Americans who dress up like Native Americans, wearing costumes that feature elaborate feather headdresses and other pieces adorned with beads and sequins. The Mardi Gras Indians are organized into groups that are referred to as tribes or gangs, some of which have roots that can be traced back to the late 19th century, when these groups first started organizing. Some of the suits worn by Mardi Gras Indians feature a blend of influences from Native American and African design traditions.
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  • Why do people wear masks during Mardi Gras?

    Q: Why do people wear masks during Mardi Gras?

    A: People wear masks during Mardi Gras to add excitement to their festivities. According to the International Business Times, Mardi Gras is an opportunity for people to abandon social constraint by donning a mask to celebrate Fat Tuesday.
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  • Where is the largest Mardi Gras celebration?

    Q: Where is the largest Mardi Gras celebration?

    A: The annual Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans, Louisiana, is often regarded as the largest and most famous celebration of that specific holiday within the pre-Lent period, with typically more than 1 million people attending the city's parades and festivities. In terms of worldwide celebrations, the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, may be the largest such festival on the planet. This celebration can involve more than 2 million people on each of the five days the Carnival celebration takes place after it begins on the Friday before Ash Wednesday. Both of these famous festivals involve loud celebrations and massive public parades.
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  • Is there a queen of Mardi Gras?

    Q: Is there a queen of Mardi Gras?

    A: There tends to be multiple women who are given the title of 'queen' during Mardi Gras, including those who are appointed to the royal court of a specific parade krewe. However, the queen of the Rex Krewe is known as the Queen of Carnival, and some people believe that the woman upon whom this title is bestowed is the true queen of Mardi Gras.
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  • What happens at a traditional Mardi Gras ball?

    Q: What happens at a traditional Mardi Gras ball?

    A: Traditional Mardi Gras balls are formal dances that tend to be focused on dancing and other social activities. These dances may be exclusive in nature, and the parties can be themed costume or masquerade parties. Other activities, such as presenting and viewing the royal court of the krewe that hosts the ball, may also be part of the festivities.
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  • Are Mardi Gras and Carnival the same celebration?

    Q: Are Mardi Gras and Carnival the same celebration?

    A: In the same way that Christmas Eve is a part of the entire Christmas holiday, Mardi Gras is a part of the Carnival celebration. Carnival refers to a multi-day season that commemorates the period before Lent, while Mardi Gras is a single Tuesday within that period.The two terms are typically used interchangeably, though they technically are separate entities.
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  • How did Fat Tuesday get its name?

    Q: How did Fat Tuesday get its name?

    A: Fat Tuesday, also known as Mardi Gras, gets its name from the practice of consuming rich foods and using up ingredients that may be restricted during the Lenten fasting period that immediately follows the holiday, including butter, oil, sugar and eggs. The term "fat" in this context has both literal and figurative meaning, referring both to the ingredients and quality of traditional foods consumed, which includes fried breads and pastries, and to the figurative quality of fatness being associated with consuming a lot of food in a self-indulgent rather than nourishing way.
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  • How long are the Mardi Gras parades?

    Q: How long are the Mardi Gras parades?

    A: Mardi Gras parade schedules tend to include start times for parades, but not end times, making it hard to predict exactly how long a parade will take. Factors that influence the duration of the parade include the length of the parade route, with longer routes taking longer to complete.
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