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.
The practice of throwing beads is a major part of the New Orleans Mardi Gras celebration. The first New Orleans Mardi Gras beads were made of glass, a material that was eventually replaced by much cheaper and more durable plastic. Parade throws have continued to evolve in recent years, with some krewes offering fiber optic beads and other unique items.