Wear a Mask
A mask not only signals to the float riders that you’re worthy of a few throws, masquerading is what makes Mardi Gras a loose, fun affair. The relative anonymity gives you license to go out of character and do things like shriek “THROW ME SOMETHING, MISTER!” and dance with strangers on the neutral ground. If you want a full-blown costume, visit a New Orleans costume shop – just remember that whatever you wear, you’ll be wearing it All-Day-Long. If you want to keep it simple (and we suggest that you do), invest in a wig or mini top hat from Fifi Mahony’s or a mask from Maskarade or head to the French Market for the annual Mask Market, when artists from around the country set up shop in the French Market to sell one-of-a-kind masks.
Eat a King Cake
The start of Carnival on January 6 also marks the start of king cake season. No Mardi Gras is complete without eating the purple, green and gold confection. King cake parties are held in offices and homes around the city all season. If you’re only in town for Mardi Gras, be sure to check out one of the local bakeries that specialize in king cakes.
A 7-cent strand of beads, a plastic cup, a doubloon with no monetary value whatsoever…no grownup ever believes that he or she will be reduced to a screaming, jumping, waving nutcase for such trivial trinkets, so prepare yourself for bead fever. You may find yourself vying with an 8-year-old for a stuffed animal or, better yet, purposefully standing next to kids in order to intercept any throws aimed at them. It happens to the best of us. Pack an extra collapsible bag so you can cart home the 30 pounds of beads and other mementos you’ll catch.
The Historyof Masquerade ball
History of Masquerade
First noted in Italy during the 15th century Renaissance, Masquerade balls were costumed public festivities that were particularly popular in Venice. They were generally elaborate dances held for members of the upper classes, and have been associated with the tradition of the Venetian Carnival.
Masquerade balls became common throughout mainland Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. A Swiss count is credited with having introduced the Venetian fashion of a semi-public masquerade ball to London in the eighteenth century, with the first being held at Haymarket Opera House. Throughout the century the dances became popular, both in England and then Colonial America.
Its prominence did not go unchallenged; a significant anti-masquerade movement grew alongside the balls themselves. The anti-masquerade writers stated the events encouraged immorality and “foreign influence”. While the writers were sometimes able to persuade authorities toward their views, enforcement of measures designed to end masquerades were not successful.
Behind the Masks of Masquerades
Masquerades flourished in eighteenth century England as one of the primary forms of entertainment and social life . Although these masquerades varied greatly from one another, there were specific elements that tended to be common to all of them. These commonalities ranged from specific costume types to the general atmosphere and traditions.
All the participants at a masquerade had to be masked and in disguise Perhaps the most frequent sight at a masquerade was the “domino” costume Venetian in origin this disguise was very simple; it was comprised of a dark loose cloak that enveloped the body accompanied by a mask. Sometimes the mask was accompanied by a hood called a “bahoo” . These costumes were usually black, but occasionally varied to white and blue . The domino costume represented intrigue, adventure, conspiracy and mystery, four elements that were a distinct part of the masquerade atmosphere. The Domino costume was also often worn by both sexes .
In addition to the presence of the Domino costume, most masquerades were also similar to each other in their enforcement of “strict rules of dress and etiquette” Everyone had to be disguised. The Swiss Count, John James Heidegger, was the leading impresario for masquerades in the beginning of the century .The sponsor of many public balls, Heidegger “refused entry to anyone not attired in something clearly identifiable as costume” .Furthermore, there was a specific code for verbal behavior at these balls. When masked attendees addressed one another, they employed the use of set phrases such as “I know you” or “Do you know me?” in order to begin a conversation . These rules were important to the establishment of some sort of order amidst an otherwise chaotic environment. Masks were usually removed after the supper meal or after the midnight hour .
Finally, all masquerades, regardless of their location or attendance, carried with them a strong atmosphere of the “carnivalesque” . Set in the late evening hours, the masquerade ball environment was festive, noisy and gay. Music and lavish food and drink played a crucial role in establishing this atmosphere. Eating, drinking and gambling was “unrestrained” . The ballrooms were often decorated with lights , in order for participants to enjoy the festivities late through the night . The impetus for masquerades varied; sometimes they were held in honor of royalty or to celebrate special occasions. Whatever their reason, masquerades were always festive and full of
Popular Masquerades of the Past
Being anonymous and at the same time, being flamboyant and wearing richly decorated costumes can add spice to a formal affair or an evening of merriment. Masquerade galas have been taking pace for a long time, going from traditional trends of yesterday to more popular or modern trends of the 21st century that involved themed events, events like that of Valentine’s Day masquerade bashes. However, some of the most popular masquerade balls of the past are still celebrated today, especially when and if you take a trip to Venice, Italy during the event of the Venice Carnival, which originated in the 14th century. With this kind of extravagant G ala, you couldn’t tell the wealthy folks from the poor folks because of the costumes and masks. This celebration is associated with the Roman Catholic traditions and their pre-lentin festival, that of the Mardi Gras.
Though it is noted historically that the Mardi Gras in New Orleans started in 1741, it wasn’t a party for everyone. By the time 1781 came around, it was put into law that African Americans were not permitted to participate. They could not attend the Mardi Gras Balls. Up until 1857, only the social elite, the upper crust of white society could attend the wild parties and celebrations of costume fantasy.
Another popular ball of the past is the Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball. This ball was given by the notorious Truman Capote. Only the chosen were invited to his affair. You had to come with a mask and the chosen ladies of the event had to also carry a fan with their costume. Capote hosted his lavish ball on November 28, 1966. It was held at New York’s Plaza Hotel in the Grand Ball Room. It didn’t matter how rich or famous you were, because Capote was in charge of his guest list. If he didn’t want you there, you didn’t get an invitation.
On March 26, 1883, another extravagant party took place called the Vanderbilt Masquerade. This event was hosted by the multi-millionaire Alva Vanderbilt. The purpose of sponsoring this gala is because she was opening her Fifth Avenue Chateau in Manhattan, New York.
Last but not least is the Masquerade of 1293. This affair was hosted by Queen Isabeau de Baviere and it was called the BAL des Ardents Ball. This is also known as the “ball of burning men,” because during the festivities of crazy costumes of wax and hair that the male figures wore; a fire broke out and several male attendees were set on fire by accident. Those caught up in the flames included the lords and the king himself.
Timeline: New Orleans
1682 – 1913
|1682||April 9: French explorer Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, and a small party arrive at the mouth of the Mississippi River. La Salle claims the region and names it Louisiana in honor of King Louis XIV of France.|
|1699||Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d’Iberville, establishes the French colony of Louisiana.|
|1718||Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, founds the city of New Orleans, then known as La Nouvelle-Orléans.|
|1723||New Orleans becomes the capital of the Louisiana colony.|
|1763||February 10: The Treaty of Paris is signed, ending the Seven Years’ War and resulting in Spain taking possession of New Orleans from France.|
|1788||March 21: A large fire sweeps through New Orleans, destroying more than 850 buildings.|
|1800||October 1: After the signing of the secret Treaty of San Ildefonso, France reacquires Louisiana from Spain.|
|1803||April 30: The United States purchases the Louisiana Territory from France for about $15 million. The acquisition doubled the size of the United States.|
|1812||April 30: Louisiana is admitted to the Union.|
|1814||December: The Battle of New Orleans begins. By January 1815 General Andrew Jackson and his forces defeat the British.|
|1835||March 3: An act of Congress authorizes a U.S. Mint in New Orleans.|
|1840||The country’s oldest family-run restaurant, Antoine’s, opens its doors in New Orleans. Patrons have included Franklin Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, and Pope John Paul II.|
|1853||New Orleans suffers its worst epidemic of yellow fever, which kills approximately 9,000 people.|
|1857||Mardi Gras in its modern form debuts in New Orleans with the establishment of the parading organization called the “Mistick Krewe of Comus.”|
|1861||January 26: Louisiana secedes from the Union.
April 12: Confederate forces fire on Fort Sumter, South Carolina. Civil War breaks out.
|1862||April 28: Under the command of Rear Admiral David G. Farragut, a Union naval fleet captures New Orleans. Union forces control the city until the end of the Civil War.|
|1868||April: Louisiana’s Reconstruction government approves a Constitution that extends voting rights to black males and integrates public schools and public accommodations.
June 25: Louisiana is readmitted to the Union.
|1872||The Krewe of Rex, establishing a king of the Carnival, is founded.
Famed French impressionist artist Edgar Degas stays in New Orleans, where he creates at least 22 works of art.
|1884||New Orleans hosts the World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition.|
|1890||July 10: The general assembly of Louisiana passes a law requiring segregation of railway cars in the state.|
|1890||October 20: Considered the first great jazz composer and pianist, Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton is born in New Orleans.|
|1892||June 7: Homer Plessy, who is categorized as seven-eighths Caucasian and one-eighth African, boards a train in New Orleans reserved for white passengers. He is arrested and will fight the charge all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.|
|1896||May 18: The U.S. Supreme Court delivers the Plessy v. Ferguson decision, affirming the Louisiana state law that mandated segregation.|
|1901||August 4: Louis Armstrong, who would become known as the father of jazz, is born in New Orleans.|
|1905||Yellow fever strikes New Orleans for the final time, killing more than 400 people.|
|1909||The U.S. Mint in New Orleans coins its last currency.|
|1912||The Louisiana state legislature grants a charter to Loyola University in New Orleans.|
|1913||Albert Baldwin Wood invents the Wood screw pump, which would be used to reduce flooding in New Orleans.|
|1921||An amendment to the Louisiana Constitution on the preservation of New Orleans’ Vieux Carré, also called the French Quarter, leads to the creation of the Vieux Carré Commission to safeguard the area.|
|1927||April 15: Fifteen inches of rain falls on New Orleans in 18 hours, causing disastrous flooding.
April 29: New Orleans dynamites the Poydras levee in an attempt to direct the flood waters away from the city.
|1938||December 26: Fleeing his home in St. Louis, Tennessee Williams arrives in New Orleans. He would become one of the nation’s preeminent playwrights and set several of his works in his adopted hometown.|
|1939||February 13: “The Little Foxes,” a play written by New Orleans-native Lillian Hellman about the struggles of a Southern family, opens on Broadway.|
|1947||The film New Orleans, with Louis Armstrong and Billie Holliday, is released.
December 3: Set in New Orleans, “A Streetcar Named Desire” opens on Broadway. The play would win the Pulitzer Prize. A film version starring Marlon Brando would be released in 1951.
|1949||March 1: Louis Armstrong is celebrated in his hometown as king of the Mardi Gras by the Zulu Social and Pleasure Club.|
|1954||May 17: The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education strikes down the precedent of Plessy v. Ferguson.|
|1960||November 14: Six-year-old Ruby Bridges enters the William Frantz Public Elementary School in New Orleans, the first black student to enroll in the formerly all-white school. Her presence triggers protests and an exodus of white students from the school.|
|1961||Preservation Hall, designed as a venue to showcase the jazz tradition of New Orleans, opens.|
|1962||December 12: After a lawsuit was filed to desegregate the institution, the board of Tulane University votes to admit black students.|
|1965||September 9-10: Hurricane Betsy strikes New Orleans, bringing winds of 125 miles per hour, causing widespread flooding, and killing dozens of residents.|
|1967||September 17: The New Orleans Saints football teams plays its inaugural game at Tulane Stadium.|
|1970||January 11: New Orleans hosts its first Super Bowl. The city has hosted the National Football League championship game a total of nine times.
April: The annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival is held for the first time, with gospel singer and New Orleans-native Mahalia Jackson appearing.
|1971||July 6: Renowned jazz trumpeter and vocalist Louis Armstrong dies at his home in Queens, New York.|
|1975||September 28: The New Orleans Superdome, which hosts the New Orleans Saints and would house survivors of Hurricane Katrina, opens.|
|1978||May 1: The first black mayor of New Orleans, Ernest Morial is sworn into office.|
|1984||May 12: The Louisiana World Exposition opens in New Orleans. It becomes the only exposition to declare bankruptcy during its run.|
|1987||September: Pope John Paul II visits New Orleans during a tour of the United States.|
|1988||August: The Republican National Convention, which names George H.W. Bush as party nominee for president, is held in New Orleans.|
|2005||August 28: The National Weather Service issues an advisory, warning that Katrina is a “potentially catastrophic category 5 hurricane.”
August 29: Hurricane Katrina makes landfall on the Louisiana coast. Levees are breached in New Orleans, flooding portions of the city.
August 30: Large parts of New Orleans are flooded as residents crowd the Superdome.
August 31: Louisiana Governor Katherine Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin order a complete evacuation of the city. The first buses transport residents from the Superdome to Houston.
September 1: President George W. Bush asks Congress for $10.5 billion in relief funds while National Guard troops help evacuate the Superdome.
September 2: President Bush flies to New Orleans to survey the damage after praising Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director Michael Brown for his handling of the crisis.
September 4: The Superdome is fully evacuated.
September 12: Under heavy criticism, Michael Brown resigns as director of FEMA as water levels drop in New Orleans.
|2006||August 29: President Bush returns to New Orleans on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, pledging to spend $110 billion to rebuild the area. The hurricane killed more than 1,600 people and many thousands remain displaced.|
Mardi Gras Beads & Throws
So what are “throws?” Well, they are exactly what they sound like – items that krewe members on floats throw to parade-goers as the floats pass by! Throws often include doubloons, beads, cups, homemade trinkets, toys and more!
The throwing of trinkets to the crowds was started in the early 1870s by the Twelfth Night Revelers, and is a time-honored expectation for young and old alike.
In 1884 (over 125 years ago), Rex started using medallions instead of trinkets. These medallions are represented by today’s doubloons. These doubloons are aluminum and anodized in many different colors. They depict the parade theme on one side and the Krewe’s emblem on the other. They have become collectors items.
ORIGINS OF MARDI GRAS
According to historians, Mardi Gras dates back thousands of years to pagan celebrations of spring and fertility, including the raucous Roman festivals of Saturnalia and Lupercalia. When Christianity arrived in Rome, religious leaders decided to incorporate these popular local traditions into the new faith, an easier task than abolishing them altogether.As a result, the excess and debauchery of the Mardi Gras season became a prelude to Lent, the 40 days of penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.Along withChristianity, Mardi Gras spread from Rome to other European countries, including France, Germany, Spain and England.
Traditionally, in the days leading up to Lent, merrymakers would binge on all the meat, eggs, milk and cheese that remained in their homes, preparing for several weeks ofeating only fish and fasting. In France, the day before Ash Wednesday came to be known as Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday.” The word “carnival,” another common name for the pre-Lenten festivities, may also derive from this vegetarian-unfriendly custom: in Medieval Latin, carnelevarium means to take away or remove meat.
MARDI GRAS IN THE UNITED STATES
Many historians believe that the first American Mardi Gras took place on March 3, 1699, when the French explorers Iberville and Bienville landed in what is now Louisiana, just south of the holiday’s future epicenter: New Orleans. They held a small celebration and dubbed the spot Point du Mardi Gras. In the decades that followed, New Orleans and other French settlements began marking the holiday with street parties, masked balls and lavish dinners. When the Spanish took control of New Orleans, however, they abolished these rowdy rituals, and the bans remained in force until Louisiana became a U.S. state in 1812.
On Mardi Gras in 1827, a group of students donned colorful costumes and danced through the streets of New Orleans, emulating the revelry they’d observed while visiting Paris. Ten years later, the first recorded New Orleans Mardi Gras parade took place, a tradition that continues to this day. In 1857, a secret society of New Orleans businessmen called the Mistick Krewe of Comus organized a torch-lit Mardi Gras procession with marching bands and rolling floats, setting the tone for future public celebrations in the city. Since then, krewes have remained a fixture of the Carnival scene throughout Louisiana. Other lasting customs include throwing beads and other trinkets, wearing masks, decorating floats and eating King Cake.
Louisiana is the only state in which Mardi Gras is a legal holiday. However, elaborate carnival festivities draw crowds in other parts of the United States during the Mardi Gras season as well, including Alabama and Mississippi. Each region has its own events and traditions.
MARDI GRAS AROUND THE WORLD
Across the globe, pre-Lenten festivals continue to take place in many countries with significant Roman Catholic populations. Brazil’s weeklong Carnival festivities feature a vibrant amalgam of European, African and native traditions. In Canada, Quebec City hosts the giant Quebec Winter Carnival. In Italy, tourists flock to Venice’s Carnevale, which dates back to the 13th century and is famous for its masquerade balls. Known as Karneval, Fastnacht or Fasching, the German celebration includes parades, costume balls and a tradition that empowers women to cut off men’s ties. For Denmark’s Fastevlan, children dress up and gather candy in a similar manner to Halloween–although the parallel ends when they ritually flog their parents on Easter Sunday morning.
Traditional Mardi Gras King Cake
Serving a King Cake during Mardi Gras celebrations is a tradition that honors the Magi who visited the Christ child on the twelfth night or Epiphany (January 6). The cake is shaped in a ring with a pecan, bean or plastic baby placed inside the dough, before baking, to represent the baby Jesus. The cake is then decorated with the purple, green and gold colors of Mardi Gras, and divided among guests. Whoever finds the baby doll will host the next King Cake celebration.
4 packages active dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water (110-115 degrees F)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup cold milk
1 cup plain or vanilla yogurt
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 stick butter or margarine
5-6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 stick butter or margarine, melted
2 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
2 dried bean, shelled pecans, or naked plastic babies
3 tablespoons soft butter or margarine
4 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
4-6 tablespoons milk
Combine the yeast, 1/2 of the sugar, and the lukewarm water in a very large bowl, stir well and set aside for a few minutes until the mixture swells slightly and small bubbles appear on the surface.
Stir in the remaining sugar, milk, yogurt, lemon juice, vanilla and salt. Mix well. Add egg yolks and mix again.
In another bowl, work the butter/margarine into 5 cups of the flour. Add the flour-butter/margarine mixture to the yeast mixture a cup at a time, mixing well after each cup is added. Begin to knead in the bowl, adding more flour if necessary to make a smooth, elastic dough.
Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead about 5 minutes, adding more flour if the dough is still sticky. Shape the dough into a ball and place in a bowl which has been buttered or sprayed with a no-stick spray. Cover and let stand in a warm place until dough doubles in size. Punch dough down and divide in half. Roll each half on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle about 8 x 14 inches.
Brush each rectangle with 1/2 stick of melted butter or margarine. Combine the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle 1/2 of the mixture over each rectangle. Roll up from the wide end, as you would a jelly roll, inserting one of the dried beans, pecans, or naked babies along the way. Press the ends of the dough together and stretch the roll into an oval about 14 inches long.
Place on a greased/sprayed cookie sheet and allow to rise in a warm place for about 45 minutes. Bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven for about 35-45 minutes until the cakes are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped with the fingers. Remove from the oven and cool for 30 minutes.
Beat the butter or margarine until softened. Add confectioner’s sugar and vanilla and continue to beat, gradually adding milk until a glaze consistency is achieved. Use half of the icing on each cake. Spread the icing evenly over each cake and decorate immediately with granulated sugar that has been rendered purple, green and gold with food coloring, making alternating bands of color.
Other decorating options: Divide the icing into three portions and use food coloring to make purple, green and gold icing. Spread in alternating bands along the length of the cakes. Use purple, green and gold gumdrops, jelly beans, or other candy to decorate the white icing.
2. It’s All in the Decor: Decorations really set the mood.You can’t go wrong with candles in all shapes and sizes and elegant candelabras in golds and browns. Or forget the candles (safety first, right) and dangle twinkling lights around the house and in swoops from the ceiling. Next, choose your color scheme: peacock or royal blue with canary yellow or gold, black, gold and red; purple and green, black and white or black, white and silver. Use drapes of silk or velvet to cover up modern household items. Fill glass vases with feathers and beads. Hang masks on walls or create centerpieces with them. Sprinkle glitter and sequins on tables and countertops.
3. Dress to Impress: Get everyone into the spirit by making costumes (or at least masks) mandatory. Give away a prize for the best costume of the night.
4. Feast on This: Don’t lose the magic by offering pizza, pretzels and potato chips. Let your guest feast on delicious little finger foods. Ideas include stuffed mushrooms, crab puffs, baked artichoke squares with sun dried tomato pesto, avocado wrapped in prosciutto, gourmet cheeses cut into diamond shapes served with water crackers, spiced walnuts, caviar with toast points, or skewers of cherry tomatoes with fresh basil and fresh mozzarella drizzled with balsamic reduction. For dessert, consider a chocolate fountain and serve cubes of cake and strawberries on the side. Or whip up a dark or white chocolate mousse and serve chilled.
5. The Music of the Night: If you have the means, hire a string quartet for the evening. Or, stream classical music through Pandora or create a playlist on your iPod to include such songs as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons or anything by Mozart and Beethoven.
6. Enhance the Revelry: Masquerade balls automatically create an air of mystery and secrecy, so consider playing a murder mystery game where guests role play and have to figure out who the killer is. Other ideas include engaging in a rousing game of charades or clearing a space for a ballroom floor where everyone can learn the waltz. You could also tell everyone ahead of time to try to remain anonymous so guests will be guessing who is who until the big reveal at midnight where everyone must unmask themselves.
The History of 6 Mardi Gras Traditions
Within two decades after the French explorer Bienville LeMoyne founded New Orleans in 1718, the city’s annual celebrations of Carnival had become an annual event, complete with masked balls and other festivities. Parades commemorating Mardi Gras (the last day of Carnival and the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent) officially began in 1838. By 1857, however, New Orleans’ Mardi Gras celebrations had become so marred by drunkenness and violence that city officials were about to do away with them. Instead, several members of a group known as the Cowbellion de Rakin Society, which had held a parade annually on New Year’s Eve since the 1830s, stepped forward. They proposed forming a new private club that would stage its own Mardi Gras parade as an orderly alternative to the chaos that currently existed. They called their new organization the Mystick Krewe of Comus (the Greek god of revelry). Today, more than 70 krewes parade through New Orleans on Mardi Gras, after celebrating the two weeks of Carnival with invitation-only balls and supper dances.
2. Rex, King of Carnival
Among the most famous krewes is the Krewe of Rex, founded in 1872. That year, the Grand Duke Alexis Romanov Alexandrovitch, brother to the heir apparent to the Russian throne, accepted an invitation to attend Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans. Prominent city businessmen organized the visit as a way of attracting tourism and business to the city after the Civil War. Forming a new krewe of prominent citizens, they designated the krewe’s leader for the year as Rex (Latin for king). Officially called the School of Design, the krewe is more commonly known as the Krewe of Rex. Every year since, a prominent person has been chosen to be Rex, that year’s King of Carnival (the Grand Duke was the first one) and given the symbolic key to the city by the mayor.
3. Bead throwing
The true meaning of the famous Mardi Gras beads begins with their traditional colors, which we also owe to the Russian Grand Duke Alexis. During his visit in 1872, the newly founded Krewe of Rex chose the colors of the duke’s royal house for the beads that krewe members would throw from their parade float into the crowds of Mardi Gras revelers. Later, they assigned meaning to each color: Purple stood for justice, green for faith and gold for power. The idea was to toss the beads to those in the crowd who exhibited these traits; the people who caught them were said to get good luck for the coming year. Though the beads were originally glass, nowadays they’re made of plastic, and are one of the most popular Mardi Gras traditions.
4. Zulu coconuts
Also among the most coveted of Mardi Gras parade “throws” are Zulu coconuts, the round, painted, glittery orbs thrown out by members of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club. One of the oldest traditionally African-American krewes, Zulu held its first parade in 1909. The very next year, as the historical record shows, they began tossing coconuts to members of the crowd. Originally, the coconuts were left in their natural brown, hairy state, but a tradition soon began of painting them and decorating them with glitter. Nowadays, Zulu coconuts are handed into the crowd rather than thrown, to avoid injuries (and lawsuits).
The blazing torches lighting the way for parade-goers during nighttime Mardi Gras festivities are called flambeaux (French for torch), and they date back to a custom established by the original Mardi Gras krewe, Comus. In the mid-19th century, the torches were a necessity due to the lack of sufficient street lighting. The original flambeaux carriers were slaves and free men of color, and their torches were probably made with shredded rope soaked in pitch and set ablaze. Crowds lining the parade route would toss coins to the flambeaux carriers, a tradition that still continues today. Over the years, however, Mardi Gras flambeaux has evolved into a kind of performance art, as the robe-wearing carriers twirl and dance with their torches, now much lighter and fueled by butane or kerosene.
6. King cake
The story behind one of Mardi Gras’ most popular foods dates back to the Middle Ages. That’s when people began celebrating the tradition of the Three Kings, who brought gifts to the baby Jesus on Twelfth Night (the end of Christmas and the beginning of Epiphany). Along with giving special gifts to children, the custom arose to eat a special kind of cake for the occasion. King cakes are now consumed throughout the season, beginning on Twelfth Night (January 6) and ending on Mardi Gras. Originally just a simple ring of dough, the king cake took different forms over the years; today, the most popular form is a braided Danish pastry laced with cinnamon and iced in the Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold. According to a tradition launched in the 1940s by Donald Entringer, who owned one of New Orleans’ largest commercial bakeries, a tiny baby figurine (meant to represent Jesus) was baked into each king cake. The baby is usually made of plastic, but in past years was sometimes porcelain or even gold. According to custom, whoever gets the baby in his or her slice must buy the next cake or host the next party. As with Zulu coconuts, however, fear of lawsuits has led to changes in the king cake tradition: Many bakeries have recently stopped baking baby figurines into their cakes, instead choosing to package them separately for customers to insert themselves.