By Kelly Baughman
When most people think of Mardi Gras they think of New Orleans, but Betcha Didn’t Know….the celebration of parades, Moon Pies, and good times began a closer to our own backyard than you might think.
Mardi Gras originally dates back thousands of years to Rome where revelers held over-the-top celebrations of spring and fertility. When Christianity arrived, those pagan celebrations evolved into a prelude to Lent, the 40 days of fasting and sacrifice between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday observed by the Catholic Church. The French later dubbed the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday “Mardi Gras”, which translates to “Fat Tuesday”.
The first signs of Mardi Gras in the U.S. were seen in 1699 when a French-Canadian explorer by the name of Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d’Iberville, settled his camp just west of what is now known as Mobile, and dubbed the camp Point du Mardi Gras. He later held a small gala that mirrored some of the traditional Mardi Gras celebrations observed in Europe.
A few years later in 1703, the newly founded city of Mobile was the first to hold official Mardi Gras celebrations in the U.S., as it served as the Capital of the French Louisiana territory. The first Mardi Gras parade in North America occurred in Mobile in 1711, as residents joined together in the streets to sing, eat, drink, and dance while a papiér-maché bull, in honor of Boeuf Gras (meaning Fat Ox), was pulled down Dauphin Street, a tradition that can still be observed today.
Once the Capital was moved to New Orleans, the tradition of Mardi Gras migrated as well, but the heart and soul of the original celebrations remains deeply imprinted on the culture of Mobile and its surrounding areas.
Over the years, the roots and traditions of Mardi Gras migrated east to Ft. Morgan, Gulf Shores, and Orange Beach. In 1978, Gulf Shores locals decided to get in on the fun and organized the first parade in the area. They called themselves the Pleasure Island Players, and when joined by the Mystic Order of Shiners in 1979, they continue to be the longest running parading order in the area. The two crews are instrumental in the Mardi Gras fun that the area still enjoys each year.
Never an area that needs an excuse to party, our little slice of heaven features numerous Krewes, parades, Balls, and Fat Tuesday celebrations. If you’ve never had a chance to experience Mardi Gras on the coast, don’t miss your chance to have some fun and take in a little history at the same time.
You’ll stand on the street enjoying marching bands, delightful floats tossing trinkets like beads, toys, doubloons, Moon Pies (another tradition started in Mobile), and more.
So whether you’re a history buff who knew that Mobile was the official home of Mardi Gras all along and love to celebrate in the heart of its home, or you’re a newbie to the whole concept of Mardi Gras and its history, take the time this year to enjoy all that Mardi Gras has to offer on the Emerald Coast. So, laissez le bon temps rouler…..or for those that ‘betcha didn’t know’….Let the Good Times Roll!