Traditions of Mardi Gras

Krewes, Food, Parades, Balls!

The traditions of Mardi Gras include specific great Mardi Gras food like the king cake, glittery Mardi Gras beads, and all of the well established rituals of Mardi Gras celebrations. Be in the know and be prepared to take your partying to the next level!

Mardi Gras Origins

Traditions of Mardi Gras start with the name itself. "Mardi Gras" is French for "Fat Tuesday," the day before Ash Wednesday. And since Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, the day before is called Fat Tuesday because it's the last day of eating before the fasting of Lent begins.

emember that, like Easter, the date of Mardi Gras changes each year. When you're asking yourself when is Mardi Gras, count 47 days back from Easter to be sure you have enough time to cram in all of the great traditions of Mardi Gras!

The Krewes

There are many krewes (clubs), each with their own parade and different themes.

  • Adonis, Alla, Argus, Atlas
  • Babylon, Bacchus, Barkus, Bilge
  • Brid, Bush, Caesar, Carrollton
  • Centurions, Chahta, Chaos, Chewbacchus
  • Choctaw, Claude, Cleopatra, Cork
  • Covington, Crescent City, D'Etat, Des Allemands
  • Dionysus, Donz, Druids, Du Monde
  • Elks Jefferson, Elks Orleans, Endymion, Eve
  • Excalibur, Folsom, Hermes, Iris
  • Isis, Jefferson Trucks, JeffersonThor, Joan of Arc
  • King Arthur, Krewe de Paws, Krewe du Vieux, Lions
  • Little Rascals, Lul, Lyra, MCCA
  • Mid-City, Mona Lisa and MoonPie, Morpheus, Muses
  • Napoleon, Nemesis, NOMTOC, Nyx
  • Okeanos, Olympia, Orpheus (M), Orpheus (O)
  • Oshun, Perseus, Phunny Phorty Phellows, Pontchartrain
  • Proteus, Push Mow, Pygmalion, Rex
  • Salt Bayou, Selene, Slidellians, Sparta
  • Tchefuncte, Thoth, Titans, 'tit Rex
  • Towahpasah, Tucks, Zeus, Zulu

The Parades

Mardi Gras revelers high up on a float in a parade

The Carnival season, the time of all Mardi Gras parades, always begins on Twelfth Night. Twelfth Night is the beginning of the Epiphany and the end of the 12 days of Christmas. The exact date is January 6, literally 12 nights after Christmas. Party hearty and enjoy the parades while you can...Carnival season ends on Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday.

Each krewe has its own parade, following a variety of parade routes. Krewes travel down parade routes on floats, dressed in colorful costumes reflecting their themes and wearing masks. Each krewe member throws Mardi Gras beads and other trinkets into the crowd. It's exhilarating being part of a crowd clamoring for mementos of this fun season.

The Flambeaux

One of the most interesting traditions of Mardi Gras is the flambeaux, a torch that acts as a beacon to gather the crowds for each parade. Originally, the flambeaux was carried by enslaved or free African Americans. They not only carried the light, they entertained the crowds; in exchange, the crowd threw coins for payment. Throwing coins is a crowd-pleasing tradition that continues today.

The Masked Balls

two women wearing feathered Mardi Gras masks

The masked balls where partygoers dress in over-the-top costumes are thrown by the different krewes (clubs) to honor their king and queen.

And while most krewes have their own king, the traditions of Mardi Gras state that the undisputed king of the entire Carnival is the Rex organization's king. To find out more about Rex, check out our meaning of Mardi Gras beads page.

The King Cake

king cake with green, gold, and purple sprinkles on top of white icing

One of the most fun and delicious traditions of Mardi Gras is the king cake. Mardi Gras food just isn't complete without it. The king cake is a cinnamon-roll-like cake with white sugary icing that then has sections of sprinkles on top using the three colors of Mardi Gras: purple, green, and gold.

King cake is served at a king cake party. The surprise is inside. Each king cake is baked with one small (about an inch) plastic baby representing the Baby Jesus. Whoever gets the baby in his or her piece of king cake is supposed to throw the next king cake party. And the next person to get the baby is obligated to throw the party after that, and so on, and so on, and so on.

You'll find king cake in many offices this time of year too. If you get the plastic baby, it's your turn to bring in the next king cake the following day to share with everyone.

Enjoy the many pieces of delicious king cake guilt-free. After all, it's practically mandatory that you partake. So, let's hear it for king cake, the Mardi Gras dessert du jour!

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