Best Mardi Gras Facts and Fat Tuesday Trivia 2023

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We all know that Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras is celebrated with tons of fanfare in New Orleans. Quite literally, people take to the streets in droves for weeks of celebration leading up to the Christian Lenten season. During this time, throughout the Big Easy (and other parts of the world, but we’ll get to that later), you can typically find impressive parades, tons of green, gold and purple beads and truly incredible food.

This year, Mardi Gras falls on Tuesday, February 21, and if you happen to be a newbie to the city or are hoping to discover all the interesting symbols and meanings associated with the celebration, look no further than our roundup of the most intriguing Mardi Gras facts and trivia. We’re answering some of your biggest questions about Mardi Gras history and how you can take part in the fun even if you’re nowhere near New Orleans.

So, scroll on to learn more about this enchanting celebration and its importance on a deeper level.

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1

The Term ‘Mardi Gras’ Doesn’t Mean What You Think it Does

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NOLA Has Been Celebrating for Almost 200 Years

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There’s More Than One Parade

Different parades are held in neighborhoods throughout the city. They’re organized by groups called krewes that are usually named for figures of Greek or Roman mythology. Each krewe chooses a new parade theme every year.

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Thanks, Mistick Krewe of Comus

The Mistick Krewe of Comus is credited with making New Orleans the most popular Mardi Gras destination in the United States when they introduced floats to the parade in 1857. Comus is the Greek God of Revelry.

6

It Begins on the Epiphany

Carnival season in New Orleans officially kicks off every year on Twelfth Night (which marks the Epiphany) when a group called the Phunny Phorty Phellows rides down St. Charles in a streetcar throwing out the first beads.

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Traditions are Rooted in the Krewe of Rex

Krewe of Rex, founded in 1872, is responsible for originating several Mardi Gras traditions including the official colors and giving out Spanish gold coins.

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Some Mardi Gras Krewes are solely made up of women

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There are More Parades Than You Would Think

There are over 70 parades held throughout the New Orleans metropolitan area during carnival season.

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There’s a Special Greeting

“Laissez les bon temps rouler” means “let the good times roll” in Cajun French, which seems appropriate.

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There Are Family Friendly Sections

Despite its reputation for debauchery, you can find relatively calm celebrations uptown. Just avoid the French Quarter.

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Dogs Can Get in on the Fun

New Orleans, Baton Rouge, the Louisiana Northshore doggies get their own parades.

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There’s a History Behind the Colors

Purple, gold and green are the official Mardi Gras colors. They were selected by Rex Krewe to honor visiting Russian Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff because they were his family colors.

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Each Color Has a Specific Meaning…

That’s right, each of the official Mardi Gras colors has a hidden secret meaning…

The color purple represents justice.

The gold color symbolizes power.

And finally, green is used to represent faith.

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There’s an Anthem, of Course

The Krewe of Rex also selected the theme song “If Ever I Cease to Love,” which has since been adopted as the anthem for Mardi Gras.

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Santa’s Somehow Involved?

It’s believed that the bead-throwing tradition started in the 1880s when a man dressed as Santa became popular with the crowd for tossing them. Other krewes took notice and adopted it.

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The Beads Have Changed…

The beads used to be made of glass but are now primarily made of plastic.

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…But You’ll Certainly Recognize Them

The city estimates around 25 million pounds of beads get thrown into the streets each year.

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The Beads Actually Hurt The City’s Sewage…

After clogged storm drains that caused excess flooding, the city cleared the drains of 46 tons of beads!

To prevent this from happening again, the city installed “gutter buddies” on drains to keep them bead-free.

24

You Have to Use the Magic Words

Parade attendees request the trinkets by yelling the phrase “Throw me something mister!”

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There Is More Than Just Beads

Although beads are the most common, many of the krewes offer up various trinkets to the crowd as they make their way down the street.

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These trinkets also have a fun name

Mardi Gras beads and coins are sometimes referred to as “doubloons.”

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Everyone Wants This Trinket…

One of the most coveted trinkets to catch is a golden coconut thrown during the Zulu parade.

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The coconut has humble beginnings

The coconut was first given as a trinket in 1910. At the time, it was a simple natural fruit without the gold. Zulu historian Emeritus Clarence Becknell said, “The coconut came because they couldn’t afford to buy the beads.”

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Coconuts were temporarily missing from parades

In 1987 lawsuits were filed against the Zulu krewe, claiming that people were injured by coconuts thrown from their floats. That year, the club could not get insured.

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But, a new law allowed them to return

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…And It Comes From a Special Group

Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club (Krewe of Zulu) is the oldest African-American krewe. They have been parading since 1909.

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You’ll Find Masks Everywhere (for Legal Reasons)…

It is required by law for people on floats to be wearing masks.

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…And The Laws are Enforced

The Corps de Napoleon was fined $100 for having 23 unmasked riders in 2018.

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But There’s Tradition Behind Them

The masks are worn to allow people to “escape society and class constraints.”

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Any other time of year masks are illegal in New Orleans

The parade thrown by the Krewe of Bacchus is one of the main attractions every year because of their over-the-top floats and because they tap celebrities every year to dress up as Bacchus, the Greek God of Wine.

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Every Year There’s a King

King Bacchus 2018 was Robin Thicke. Previous kings include William Shatner, Anthony Mackie and Nicolas Cage.

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Not to Be Confused With Chewbacchus

Not every group is traditional, just check out the Krewe of Chewbacchus, which combines Bacchus, the Greek God of Wine with themes and imagery from Star Wars.

Some krewes have been known to spend over $200,000 on their floats. A company called Kern Studios has been offering up their float-building services to Mardi Gras paraders since 1932.

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The Mardi Gras krewe Comus established the tradition of the flambeaux

The French word refers to blazing torches that are used to light the way during nighttime carnival events. They originated in the 19th century out of practicality, because there weren’t modern street lights.

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Today, Mardi Gras flambeaux is treated as an art

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Forget the Parade, There’s a Ball

The street parades may draw the biggest crowds but each krewe also organizes a Mardi Gras ball, many of which are considered the social events of the season. They are planned by each krewe’s king and queen who are not revealed until the night of the ball.

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That’s Right, There Are Kings and Queens

The Krewe royalty system includes the Krewe leader, followed by the Kings and Queens, and then the maids and dukes.

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A King of Carnival is crowned every year

The king is crowned by the mayor of New Orleans and they are also honored with a key to the city.

The doughy pastry known as king cake is the traditional Mardi Gras treat. The person who finds the hidden plastic baby in their slice is supposed to have good luck all year and is responsible for bringing the king cake to the next party.

RELATED: Best King Cake Recipe

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You’ll Definitely Have a King Cake

An estimated 500,000 king cakes are sold each year during carnival season.

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King Cake was named after biblical figures

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Despite its colors, King cake has pretty traditional flavors

Most cakes are flavored with vanilla and cinnamon.

Hurricanes may be a year-round NOLA tradition, but cocktails made with a Spanish anise-flavored liqueur called Ojen is also popular this time of year. The spirit’s original manufacturers stopped making it in the 1990’s, but the Sazerac Company concocted their own recipe and started selling it again in 2016.

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Hurricane Katrina Didn’t Stop Mardi Gras

After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, the parade continued in a show of strength and resilience.

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It’s on Rain or Shine…

Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans have been canceled 12 times, mostly because of wars. The most recent cancelations were in 1945 because of WWII and in 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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…Except for the Super Bowl (Kind of)

The 2013 Super Bowl in New Orleans forced the city to change the parade schedule, so nothing would take place on game day.

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Still, local krewes found ways to celebrate despite the pandemic.

Instead of traditional floats in 2021, New Orleans krewes elaborately decorated their houses.

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They also lent financial support to frontline workers

55

The Tradition of Carnival Can be Traced Back to France

Carnival celebrations originated in Nice, France with the earliest records dating back to 1294.

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We Celebrate Because of Pope Gregory XIII…

Mardi Gras became a holiday in 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII added it to the Gregorian calendar.

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…And the LeMoyne Brothers

The LeMoyne brothers brought the Mardi Gras celebration to the United States when they were sent by King Louis XIV to defend France’s claim on the Louisiana territory in 1699. The territory included parts of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. They set up camp by the Mississippi River and named it Point du Mardi Gras where they held a small celebration.

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It’s Been a Holiday for 145 Years…

Fat Tuesday was declared a state holiday in Louisiana in 1875.

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…And Not Just in Louisiana

It’s also a state holiday in parts of Alabama and Florida (pictured here).

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The Oldest Celebration Isn’t in Nola

Mobile, Alabama is home to the oldest Mardi Gras celebration in the United States. They’ve been partying since 1703.

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…Or the United States

Places like Ireland, England, Australia, New Zealand,and Canada refer to Mardi Gras as Shrove Tuesday. Shrove is rooted in the word shrive, which means to absolve, and people often go to church to confess their sins.

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It Starts at the Beginning of the Week

Lundi Gras, French for Fat Monday, has also become a popular day for carnival revelry.

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It Goes out With a Bang

Carnival season officially comes to a close when the mayor and police officers ride through the French Quarter on horseback at midnight on Ash Wednesday.


Adam is a writer based out of New York City who loves video games, horror movies, and cats (the musical and the animal.)

Staff Writer
Cameron (she/her) is a staff writer for Good Housekeeping, where she covers everything from holidays to food.

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