Mardi Gras, also called Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday, falls on the day before Ash Wednesday. Many consider Mardi Gras to be the last chance for celebration before the 40-day Lenten season of the Christian church begins, so communities and private groups throughout Louisiana schedule parties, parades and festivals on the holiday or during the preceding weekend. The most lavish celebrations, though, are held in New Orleans.
Although we may think of New Orleans as the home of Mardi Gras, the first Mardi Gras celebration in North American was held at Fort Louis de la Louisiane --- now Mobile, Alabama --- in 1703. New Orleans, established in 1718, was celebrating Mardi Gras in the 1730s but the first large parades did not begin until the late 1830s and Rex, King of the Carnival, was invented in 1872. The governor of Louisiana signed the Mardi Gras Act in 1875, making Mardi Gras a legal state holiday.
Selected in 1872 by Rex, the King of Carnival, the official colors of Mardi Gras were assigned meanings some 20 years later, according to the Alexandria Mardi Gras Association. According to the Mardi Gras tradition, purple represents justice, green represents faith and gold stands for power. These colors appear on cakes, decorations, floats, costumes and memorabilia wherever Mardi Gras is celebrated.
Although Mardi Gras parades are held throughout the state of Louisiana and all over the country, the largest and showiest occur in New Orleans. Private nonprofit groups called krewes plan and fund these events, which may include horses, bands and other participants in addition to the floats. On the floats, masked krewe members distribute so-called throws ---- trinkets and strings of beads --- to bystanders along the route. Most parades are suitable for families, but it's a good idea to check before bringing children along.
From January 6 to Mardi Gras each year, nearly 500,000 king's cakes are eaten in New Orleans, according to the Mardi Gras Day website. Representing the gifts brought to the child Christ on the day of Epiphany, 12 nights after Christmas, this ring-shaped, cinnamon-filled cake is sprinkled with purple, gold and green sugar contains a tiny plastic doll baked inside. Traditionally, the person who finds the baby in his piece of cake must buy the next king's cake or host the next party.
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