When you think of Mardi Gras in the USA New Orleans, Louisiana instantly comes to mind.
In fact, while The Big Easy throws the largest (and most famous) Mardi Gras in the USA, it's not the first U.S. city to host the celebration. Here's a bit of history on the holiday, and where you can celebrate Mardi Gras across the USA.
According to historians, Mardi Gras dates back thousands of years to boisterous pagan celebrations of spring and fertility in Rome. When Christianity arrived during the medieval years, religious leaders decided to incorporate the popular local traditions of these pagan celebrations (think parades and lots of eating and drinking) into traditions and became a prelude to Lent — the 40 days of fasting and sacrifice between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. The French later dubbed the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday "Mardi Gras," which translates to "Fat Tuesday."
Mardi Gras parade
History in the USA
Mardi Gras first made its way over to North America via the French-Canadian explorer Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d'Iberville in 1699, when he named his campsite Point du Mardi Gras . He later held a small gala at the campsite, located about 97 kilometers downriver from present-day New Orleans.
Starting in 1703, French soldiers and settlers enjoyed Mardi Gras festivities in the newly founded city of Mobile,which served as the capital of French Louisiana territory, until the capital was moved to New Orleans. More than 100 years later, the first recorded Mardi Gras street parade in New Orleans took place in 1837. After violent acts nearly shut down the celebrations, New Orleans businessmen formed the Mistick Krewe of Comus, a secret society that showcased a themed parade with elaborate floats and performers and a lavish post-parade gala in 1857.
This evolution of Krewes and parades over the past 150 years into part-cultural tradition and part-wild party is what shapes Mardi Gras celebrations across the U.S.
Mardi Gras in Shreveport Bossier
Where to Celebrate in the USA
An estimated 850,000 attend dozens of parades, parties and other carnival events each year in Mobile, where Mardi Gras in the United States was born. On Fat Tuesday, six parades take place, including the Order of Athena and the Knights of Revelry mystic societies, who also host receptions and balls that evening. Expect jazz bands, colorful floats and, of course, the opportunity to catch beaded necklaces and toys at this family friendly event. And don't miss the Order of Myths parade starting at 6 p.m., featuring illuminated floats.
Year round, immerse yourself in the history of Mardi Gras at the Mobile Carnival Museum.
New Orleans, Louisiana
The most popular time to visit New Orleans for Mardi Gras begins the Friday before Fat Tuesday. Arriving then will ensure you'll see the most popular parades, like Endymion (Saturday), Bacchus (Sunday), Zulu and Rex (both on Fat Tuesday). Each night, bars and nightclubs will host parties along Bourbon Street and right in the heart of the French Quarter. But if you prefer bars that cater more to locals, check out Frenchman Street or Magazine Street. Mardi Gras in New Orleans ends promptly at midnight on Ash Wednesday, so don't expect to continue partying late into the night on Wednesday morning.
Lake Charles, Louisiana
In Lake Charles, Louisiana, visit the Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu, featuring the largest Mardi Gras costume display in the world. Stay throughout the weekend for the Krewe of "Barkus" costumed pet parade (Saturday), gumbo cook-off (Saturday), lighted boat parade (Sunday), Royal Gala (Monday) and the grand finale: the Krewe of Krewes Parade at 5 p.m. on Fat Tuesday.
St. Louis, Missouri
French-founded St. Louis, Missouri, hosts over a month of celebrations and claims to host the second-largest Mardi Gras parade. In the historic, French Soulard neighborhood, a series of parties and parades lead up to Mardi Gras, the largest being the Grand Parade, which features more than 100 floats.
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Mardi Gras in Mobile, Alabama