Beads, floats and partying in the street — most people associate this much with New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, but here are 10 facts that aren’t as well-known about the annual celebration, which kicked off today — Fat Tuesday.
There’s holiday royalty
Beginning with actor Danny Kaye in 1969, part of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras tradition has been to crown a national celebrity the King of Bacchus. This year, the king is singer Robin Thicke. Previous kings have been Hulk Hogan, Will Ferrell, Michael Keaton, Nicolas Cage, Billy Crystal and William Shatner.
Why purple, green and gold?
The tricolor combination that’s become quintessential to the parade dates to the 19th century — although its exact origins are debated. According to historian Errol Laborde, the colors were selected by a group called the Rex Organization to honor the Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich of Russia, who visited New Orleans during carnival season in 1872. Purple, gold and green, Laborde says in the Daily Advertiser, are colors based on heraldry, or a set of rules dealing with coats of arms.
There are many international variations
Mardi Gras is hardly the only celebration of Fat, or Shrove, Tuesday — a time of indulgence before a period of fasting beginning the following day, Ash Wednesday. In Sweden there’s Fettisdagen, in the Czech Republic there’s Masopust and in Germany there’s Karneval.
Float riders are legally required to wear masks
Called krewe members, those riding on floats during the parade are legally mandated to wear a mask (or face paint) — or get a fine in certain parishes. The rule is intended to ensure that the parade is high quality and festive.
One lucky attendee gets a golden coconut
Only one Mardi Gras reveler a year will come home with a Zulu coconut. Introduced as a tradition in the early 1900s, the “golden nuggets” are thrown to the crowd — alongside many more non-gold coconuts, WDSU reports.
There’s an official Mardi Gras tune
Since 1872, the tune “If Ever I Cease to Love” has been the celebration’s official theme song. “If ever I cease to love / May little dogs wag their tails in front,” goes one of the song’s verses.
Whatever the weather
The event is rain or shine — but it has been canceled in the name of war. From 1942 to 1945, Mardi Gras did not occur, although it did continue during the Great Depression as well as Prohibition.
Share this French phrase with revelers
“Laissez les bons temps rouler” is a Cajun French saying that means “let the good times roll” and an unofficial catchphrase for the festivities.
There’s a baby in the cake
King cake, a festival-affiliated treat, often has a small baby figure hiding inside. Getting the figurine in your slice is considered good luck.