If you have ever been to New Orleans, you know that life is more interesting in the place often called the “most unique” city in the United States. Steeped in culture and history, New Orleans is home to one of the most well known celebrations – Mardi Gras. While many people think of New Orleans when they hear Mardi Gras, this celebration has actually been around for thousands of years, and there are many countries that observe this colorful holiday.

The origins of Mardi Gras can be traced back to spring equinox and pagan rituals pertaining to the changing seasons. These traditions were commonplace with the Romans, and they were a group notorious for their wild festivities. One such celebration was held in the honor of the deity Saturn. The Romans would throw a lively soiree called Saturnalia. They would make a sacrifice which was followed by a large banquet, gift giving, and even gambling. Eventually, Christianity would make its way to Rome, and their wild celebrations were slowly transitioned into a part of the religious traditions. These carnival gatherings became a ceremonial indulgence before the traditional Catholic season of Lent. 

Image Credit: Universal Orlando
Image Credit: Universal Orlando

Through the years, the tradition of Mardi Gras spread through out the European countries and eventually to the United States around 1699. The French began settling colonies in what is modern day Louisiana, and during their colonization they brought the traditional carnival celebration. Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville and his brother Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville were French explorers that settled in Louisiana. They staked out land that was near modern day New Orleans while exploring the country. In honor of their new found land, they celebrated by holding a gathering. They decided to call the piece of land Point du Mardi Gras which initiated the beginning of what would be a legendary carnival. Over time, the celebration evolved to include banquets, parties that would spill down the streets, and balls where people would dress in lavish costumes and masks.

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However, during the Seven Years War, France handed Louisiana to Spain and the Spanish banned the tradition citing that it was too rambunctious, but the tradition wouldn’t fade away forever. 

The celebration slowly made its way back to Louisiana as people traveled abroad and witnessed the tradition in European countries. It was once again seen in the United States with the first Mardi Gras parade recorded in 1837. However, it was a sporadic festival mostly celebrated by the Roman Catholic Creole community. It didn’t become a staple event until a group of businessmen decided to oversee the celebration and turn it into an event to end all events. 

In 1857, a group of businessmen formed a secret society called the Mistick Krewe of Comus. The name Comus came from John Milton’s book Comus (A Mask presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634). These men encouraged the revival of the carnival celebration. It was with their support that it became an annual street festival complete with a parade, costumes, marching bands, beads, and elaborate masks. There was even an extravagant ball with an exclusive guest list. This secretive society has always been composed of very wealthy, very connected men that strived to make Mardi Gras an event of grandeur and the most sought after invitation.

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The event has drawn people in since its dawn, and even royalty from around the world has traveled to New Orleans to partake. In 1872, the official colors of Mardi Gras became purple, gold, and green. The Russian Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff was visiting Louisiana, and in his honor those three colors were chosen because they were the colors of the Romanoff family. Today these rich tones are still the identifiable colors for the Mardi Gras celebration. 

Since the formation of the Mistick Krewe, Mardi Gras became a yearly carnival celebration. Today, Louisiana is the only state that recognizes it as a legal holiday. In 1875, Governor Henry C. Warmoth signed a bill making the celebration legally a holiday for the people of Louisiana. For those celebrating, Mardi Gras remains a free celebration because the event is put on by private social clubs.  

This year, Mardi Gras fell on Tuesday February 17th. Visitors usually arrive the weekend before and enjoy the festivities leading up to Mardi Gras day!

In case you missed the festivities or want a more family friendly version, then you’ll want to check out Universal Orlando Resort’s 2015 Mardi Gras celebration – featuring 16 nights of thrilling concerts from some of the biggest names in music, coupled with the essence of the legendary Bayou bash. 

Available to enjoy on select dates through April 18, 2015, this year’s exhilarating concert lineup features an array of talent with something for everyone to enjoy. Headliners include English pop sensation Jessie J, who’s known for her hits “Price Tag” and “Bang Bang,” “American Idol” winner Kelly Clarkson, and reggaeton superstar Yandel. Also performing is R&B artist Trey Songz, award-winning American country group The Band Perry, and the rock group American Authors, whose single “Best Day of My Life” was named the No.1 most played song in 2014 on Adult Pop Radio. And if that wasn’t enough, Styx is playing on March 14th!

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Guests will also have the opportunity to catch handfuls of colorful beads during this year’s rockin’ parade where 12 exquisitely detailed Mardi Gras floats were engineered by Blaine Kern Artists, the same company that has been hand-crafting floats for the iconic New Orleans celebration since 1947. Plus, guests can visit Universal Studios Florida’s very own French Quarter Courtyard to enjoy authentic Cajun cuisine including Gumbo and New Orleans’ infamous Beignets, prepared fresh and hot.

The excitement of Universal Orlando’s Mardi Gras celebration is included with admission to Universal Studios Florida. Guests can take advantage of an exclusive vacation package including the all-new Cabana Bay Beach Resort which starts at $139 per adult, per night, tax inclusive and includes 4-night on-site hotel accommodations, 2 day Park-to-Park ticket with the 3rd day free, Early Park Admission and more. For more information on the exclusive vacation package and Mardi Gras listing, visit www.universalorlando.com/mardigras.

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