Mardi Gras: Traditions, Celebrations and History

Lea Wassom, Staff Writer

Mardi Gras, French for “Fat Tuesday”, is a Christian celebration observed the day before the beginning of Lent. The holiday is centered around a large festival taking place before a long period of fasting or temporarily discontinuing certain practices for religious purposes. While the Mardi Gras was first celebrated on March 3rd, 1699 in New Orleans, new traditions and ways of celebrating continue to grow as Mardi Gras spreads in popularity, including among State High students. 

This Past Mardi Gras took place on Tuesday, Feb 21, 2023. Every year, approximately 1 million people visit New Orleans – also referred to as “Pointe du Mardi Gras”– to extravagantly celebrate the holiday. Crowds of people parade through streets in green, purple, and gold beads and costumes as music blasts and festive floats zoom by. 

State High Freshman Dashiell Nealon has been to the New Orleans Mardi Gras parade three times and celebrates the holiday. “When I’m there [New Orleans], I’ll go to the parade. There’s the Sun parade, and the Zulu parade; those are pretty big. It’s like a big party. It was like, you know the Homecoming parade? It was like that but like, 10 times more stuff and 10 times more people. It’s a lot of fun!” Nealon said. 

While most places do not have celebrations for Mardi Gras as flamboyant as those in New Orleans, many people still celebrate Mardi Gras on a smaller scale. Traditional masks and colorful beads are worn by many, and some bake and eat festive king cakes, a hybrid of coffee cake and cinnamon rolls topped with green, gold, and purple icing. The “King” part of king cakes is a small plastic baby Jesus hidden within the cake that determines who will hold the following year’s Mardi Gras party. It is based on who gets the slice of cake with the baby Jesus.

“I’ll wear beads to school, because I have a bunch of them,” Nealon said. Traditional southern food is also a staple of Mardi Gras. From biscuits to gumbo, southern food is eaten all across North America on Mardi Gras. “When I’m at home[for Mardi Gras] my mom will make red beans and rice and we’ll have a king cake and we’ll eat that,” Nealon explained. “Other than the red beans and rice, when I was there I had a lot of Gumbo. We have a nice meal of southern food, New Orleans-type food.”

Mardi Gras is the festival that takes place the Tuesday before the beginning of Lent, Ash Wednesday. During Lent, many people traditionally give up a certain practice or fast to represent sacrifice. Nealon described Mardi Gras celebrations as “one last hoorah before you can’t eat.”

While many people do not celebrate as extravagant as those in New Orleans, Mardi Gras is a cherished and widely celebrated holiday celebrated by many. From colorful beads to southern foods to king cakes, there are a plethora of ways to celebrate Mardi Gras. As millions of people continue to celebrate Mardi Gras, so do countless students at State College Area High School.