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All about Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras is truly a unique holiday. Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday.” It is related to celebrations around the world, called “carnivals,” from the Latin words, “carne” and “vale”, meat and farewell — a farewell to meat before the abstinence of Lent.

But, don’t confuse Carnival and Mardi Gras — they are not the same! Carnival refers to The Feast of the Epiphany, a period of feasting and fun that begins on Jan. 6. Mardi Gras refers to Fat Tuesday, the final day of celebration before Ash Wednesday when Lent begins. So, how did Mardi Gras begin?

mardi1 Legend has it that French-Canadian explorer, Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville, arrived at a plot of land 60 miles directly south of New Orleans and named it “Pointe du Mardi Gras” — in honor of the holiday which had been celebrated in Paris since the Middle Ages. Early festivities included masquerade balls and lavish dinners. As time went on, parades and floats became more and more spectacular and secret societies, known as “krewes,” maintained a mystical and clandestine presence.

In the 1870s, float riders began throwing trinkets to the crowds, and the tradition continues today. Typical “throws” include beads, cups, doubloons (gold coins) and stuffed animals. By law, float riders must always wear masks. On Fat Tuesday, it is legal for everyone else to wear decorative masks, and those most elaborate, add to the fun.  

Mardi Gras would not be complete without sweet and colorful king cakes — especially in New Orleans where thousands of king cakes are enjoyed every year. On Jan. 6, according to the Christian faith, Jesus first showed himself to the three wise men and the world, also known as the Epiphany. Each king cake has a tiny baby inside (generally plastic now, but years ago the baby might be made of porcelain or even gold). The lucky person who receives the slice of cake with the baby has the next king cake party.

New Orleans adopted Mardi Gras and made the holiday into something grandiose, which is why the celebration has become synonymous with the city. New Orleans embraced Mardi Gras to set itself apart from the rest of the nation. “Laissez les bon temps roulez” — French for “let the good times roll” — evolved into an unofficial motto of the season.

The traditional colors of Mardi Gras are purple, green, and gold. In 1892, the Rex parade theme “Symbolism of Colors” gave meaning to these colors: Purple Represents Justice. Green Represents Faith. Gold Represents Power.

Are you ready to party? You’ll need masks, beads, king cake, balloons, and flowers! After all, your stores will want to become the destination, as party-goers prepare to cover their surroundings with traditional purple, green and gold. There isn’t a more beautiful way to do that than with flowers.

Mardi Gras might be the largest party in the world. Celebrated from Belgium to the French Riviera, Brazil to Sweden, and of course in the United States, it’s a global tradition noted for fun and indulgence. From parades to costumes, to over-the-top food festivals, “Fat Tuesday” does not disappoint.

 Melissa Jones is an experienced mass market and e-commerce category buyer with over 15 years in the floriculture industry.