4 mins

5 things you didn’t know about Mardi Gras

The show must go on! At least it is in New Orleans in Louisiana, which is hosting Mardis Gras 2021, says Sarah Riches

A parade in New Orleans (Shutterstock)

Every year New Orleans in Louisiana hosts the biggest Mardis Gras festival in the USA – and this year is no exception, as it’s taking place on 16 February.

Covid-19 restrictions mean the usual balls aren't open to the public and the costumed parades with floats, puppets and marching jazz bands won’t be happening.

Still, small parties are allowed and the bars on Bourbon Street and Frenchman Street will be open for celebrations, subject to local Covid-19 guidelines.

So if you’re able to party, here are five surprising things you need to know…

1. The name means Fat Tuesday

Mardis Gras costumes (Shutterstock)

Mardis Gras costumes (Shutterstock)

Mardis Gras means Fat Tuesday in French. Traditionally, rich, fatty food is eaten before fasting during Lent, which begins the following day, on Ash Wednesday.

2. Everyone throws beads

Mardis Gras beads and masks (Shutterstock)

Mardis Gras beads and masks (Shutterstock)

Watch out, as you may well have some beads hurled at you during Mardi Gras. Make like a local and catch as many as you can and wear them.

The tradition goes back to the 1920s, when the beads were made out of glass and thrown out to the crowds. These days, frisbees, cups, stuffed toys and doubloons are also thrown. Doubloons are aluminium coins modelled on old Spanish gold coins.

3. Decorations are purple, green and gold

A purple, green and gold house in New Orleans (Shutterstock)

A purple, green and gold house in New Orleans (Shutterstock)

Expect people in costumes and buildings to be decorated in purple, green and gold. Purple symbolises justice, green faith and gold power.

4. Cakes have plastic dolls inside

A King cake (Shutterstock)

A King cake (Shutterstock)

Stuff yourself silly on a King cake, a circular puff pastry filled with almond, cinnamon or strawberry cream and topped with icing. Just make sure you don’t choke on a small plastic doll inside, which represents baby Jesus.

Whoever finds the doll is meant to bake or buy a King cake the following year. You can buy one from La Boulangerie.

5. Hand-painted coconuts are handed out

Mardis Gras floats (Shutterstock)

Mardis Gras floats (Shutterstock)

This tradition dates back to the 1910s, when many members of the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club would collect coconuts from the outdoor markets where they worked and hand them out from floats.

The coconuts have got more elaborate over the decades, so now if you’re lucky you might go home with a prized gold or silver painted coconut covered in glitter, beads or feathers.

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