The Mardi Gras of New Orleans today has its roots in Medieval Europe. There is no correlation of how it has become one of the greatest parties in the world though from this origin. The history of Mardi Gras was tracked to the Romans, but it was a French-Canadian explorer that helped the south celebrate Mardi Gras for the first time in 1703. This happened not in New Orleans, however. It was in what is now Mobile, Alabama. Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville named the piece of land where he landed in 1699 "Pointe due Mardi Gras''.
A secret society was formed in 1704 called the Masque de la Mobile and it is felt that this was a precursor of today's modern krewes. This society was part of Mardi Gras until 1709. Another one took its place, but the name was changed to "Boeuf Graf Society''. They had a bull head mounted on a rolling cart that they paraded through the streets. This celebration was done on the Tuesday before the start of Lent. The 1740's saw the first balls being held and in 1871 another krew was formed. Floats, Kings and making Mardi Gras a legal holiday all came about in the 1870's.
King Cakes are part of the tradition of Mardi Gras just as balls, floats and beads are. This Christian faith tradition began as the Feast of the Epiphany where it has its roots in the three kings that visited the baby Jesus, bearing gifts. Baking a cake was part of honoring the three kings. There is a baby that is inserted into the baked King Cake. The person that gets the piece of cake with the baby is to host the next King Cake party. They were made of simple dough formed into a ring then iced with the Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold. Many people may not know that Mardi Gras is a forty seven day celebration with the culmination being on Shrove Tuesday.
The parade floats are made right in New Orleans and the main float maker is the Blaine Kern studio. They employ artists to design, sculpt, paint and animate the Mardi Gras floats every year. The studio has been in business since 1947 and offers tours. Part of this attraction is to make your own float with the help of the people in your tour group.
Throwing coins, beads and stuffed animals from the floats has been around since 1870 when the Twelfth Night Revelers, a Krew, began the tradition. In today's parades the coins that are thrown have the parade theme on one side and the Krewes emblem on the other. There are also Celebrity King doubloons that are considered collector's items. The competition for all the items that are thrown from the floats is formidable and fun.
The streets of the French Quarter are closed during parade time so that the many revelers can party. There will be plenty of music coming from the many establishments in the French Quarter. Book hotels rooms well in advance if visiting during Mardi Gras.