Entertainment & Events

Mardis Gras in the Gaslamp and what it’s all about

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Photo from Bengt Nyman via Flickr

Photo from Bengt Nyman via Flickr

It started with a small party at “Dick’s Last Resort” and a one vehicle parade back in 1996 and now San Diego’s Mardi Gras celebration has grown into a huge blowout closing down 5th Avenue between Harbor and Broadway. This year there are nearly 40,000 expected to make their way to the Gaslamp Quarter.

There will be two parades tonight each with over 40 floats. According to King Lawrence, the official king of Mardi Gras, all you need is a smile and you’ll be thrown some beads – no need for anything “flashy.”

Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the gate. There are plenty of Mardis Gras events going on in the Gaslamp quater if you want to make a night of it.

San Diego’s party is sure to be a good one but nothing compares to New Orleans’ Mardi Gras celebrations, but how did it all start? What is a King’s cake and what’s the deal with those purple, green and gold beads?

Despite the hard partying and debauchery associated with Mardi Gras celebrations that we see today, the jubilation actually has religious correlations. Mardi Gras literally means fat Tuesday in French and began as a ritual by the Catholic church to mark the beginning of the 40 days of lent before Easter Sunday. On the day before Ash Wednesday in the Middle Ages it was the norm for a fat ox to be killed and eaten on the last feast day before the time of fasting, hence the name fat Tuesday.

As time went on the feasts gave way to bigger and bigger celebrations in Paris by the upper class. Their celebrations gave birth to the traditions we know today. Masquerade balls became popular because they allowed the rich and famous to party with the regular folks and not be recognized, so today we keep the feathered masks and some of that French touch.

The tradition of Mardi Gras came to the United States with French settlers and actually started in Mobile, Alabama not in New Orleans as it is popularly believed. By the time Mardis Gras made its way to the US, most of the traditions were already established. The main tradition everyone wants to know about is the beads.

It’s no secret that part of the reason New Orleans Mardi Gras celebrations have become so notorious is because women seem to enjoy taking their tops off to get as many beads as possible. The tossing of beads is just part of long standing tradition of throwing gifts at revelers from parade floats. Because the parades and parties were organized by the rich, they felt that throwing trinkets, gold coins, candies and small toys would increase participation in the festivities and establish good public relations.

Why are the colors of these beads usually purple, green and gold? Each color represents a different attribute: purple symbolizes justice, green represents faith and gold stands for power. The colors also have to do with the Holy trinity and the three kings from the orient. This association leads to the traditional king cake which was started in New Orleans. The king cake is an oval shaped, braided cake often decorated with the traditional colors with a small plastic baby inside. The person that gets the piece with the baby is said to have good luck and is also supposed to host the next king cake party or buy the next cake.

So there you go, now you know how Fat Tuesday got started and what all those traditions mean. Now you can impress your friends while you’re out partying the night away in downtown San Diego, have a fun and safe Mardi Gras.

1 Comment

  1. Kendra

    March 8, 2010 at 10:37 pm

    thanks for breaking down what mardi gras and fat tuesday meant. that was a serious question that no one could answer for me.

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