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Mardi Gras Galveston - A History

Mardi Gras! Fat Tuesday! Carnival! The BIG PARTY! No one knows where or when the custom started - and many of us don't care! Some people trace it to the Romans, whose pagan orgies were held during the spring season. All we really know is it dates back to primitive man's celebration of "The Coming of the Blossom of New Life". The Greeks and Romans twisted this celebration into an excuse for lawlessness and Debauchery. The newly founded Christian church tried to stamp out this practice but succumbed to the resistance and adapted it as part of the church ritual as a day of feast before the Lenten season of fast and promise. The word carnival which was adopted to mean Mardi Gras comes from the Latin term "Carnelevarre" (farewell to flesh) as a result of these ritual parties before Lent.

During the Dark Ages the festivals all but faded away until its reawakening by the French in the Middle Ages. The French embraced the celebration giving it the name "Mardi Gras", translated it is held on "Fat Tuesday" (which is the day before Ash Wednesday which starts the season of lent). Due to lent being a time of 40 days of fasting, reflection and prayer which leads to the Passion of Christ, it was felt a giant party and all round good time was needed prior to this 40 days of sacrifice. So Mardi Gras kicked off lent by celebrating with masquerade balls. And as was the custom of the times all large celebrations required the killing of the fatted calf so Mardi Gras was soon joined by the "Boef Gras" (Grand Fatted Cow), a huge bull with gilded horns, sometimes live and sometimes manmade that became the traditional symbol of Mardi Gras. However with the fall of the Bourbon Kings, there was a decline in Mardi Gras revere in France. But in 1805 Napoleon resurrected the event with a six hour parade called the "Promenade du Boef Gras" (he felt the people need some fun for some reason).

In 1699 Mardi Gras moved to the New World. A French nobleman Pierre Le Moyne', declares his camp "Pointe du Mardi Gras", (Mardi Gras Point) and his crew of explorers conducts the first recorded Mardi Gras celebration on a small island in the Mississippi River just downstream from the site of modern New Orleans. He then continued upriver to found the site of the future city as Louisiana's first European settler's entered the Mississippi Delta Gulf Coast Region. This point is located 60 miles downstream, from Algiers Point in New Orleans on the river.

1700s New Orleans, under French rule, starts celebrating pre-Lenten balls. The Marquis de Vaudreuil, early Louisiana governor, has established elegant society balls that became the model for the upper class Mardi Gras Carnival Ball Masque celebrations of later generations. These balls are held at his home and could have started as early as 1741.

Late 1700s Spain takes over and bans the balls. What do you expect from a country that started the Inquisition?

In 1803 United States assumes ownership of New Orleans as part of the Louisiana Purchase. The ban continues.

In 1805 United States Census for New Orleans at the time, counts 3551 whites, 3105 slaves, 1566 free people of color, and 253 of "all other persons" in New Orleans. Total of 8475 inhabitants. First "Quadroon", or Creole Ball (ball for all colors) held during Carnival season. William Claiborne, is Governor.

In 1806 Americans acting on a "rumor", bans masking, and balls, as a possible cover for spies for Aaron Burr. Burr who killed Alexander Hamilton in the famous duel was rumored to be planning a take over of New Orleans to form his own empire in the United States.

In 1823 Creoles finally get Americans to reinstate balls.

In 1827 Masking on the street becomes legal.

In 1831 Mobile, Alabama, saw the origin of the "Cowbellion de Rakin Society" by Michael Kraft. This began with a group of young men celebrating by stumbling out into the streets clanging rakes, gongs and cowbells as they went. Most experts say this is where Mardi Gras Parades began.

In 1837 New Orleans soon picked up this tradition by parading through the city streets at night. First recorded reports of New Orleans street processions of maskers in long lines of carriages, and on horseback. These are mostly Creoles who have celebrated for some years now among themselves African men would lead these parades dancing their native dances while holding fire torches. The flambeau carriers lighted the parade path throughout the city. This tradition is still part of New Orleans Mardi Gras today in the Flambeau Parade.

In 1841 Hundreds mask as Bedouins Society (Made up of Creoles) stage the first formal parade in New Orleans.

In 1857 New Orleans is the forming of the first "Krewe". The name Krewe was adopted by carnival organizations for their groups and spelled the old English way with a "K". The first and oldest is the Mystic Krewe of Comus founded in 1857 by six upscale Orleanians (it's still a haven for local elite). It was the Krewe of Comus who planned the first organized Mardi Gras parade around a theme and used flambeauxs to light the procession. They molded the Mardi Gras into the Carnival Season it is today.

Their dedication to party and have a great time could not be swayed. Even the prohibition of float building during the War Between The States could not keep the Krewe of Comus from parading through the streets of New Orleans on foot. They knew that Mardi Gras could be preserved with planning, organization, and management of the celebrations and had a lot to do with shaping Mardi Gras: The group coined the term "Krewe" for its secret organization, presented a themed parade with floats and costumed riders and staged a tableau ball.

Not only are they the First Krewe, They are the first Krewe to; (1) choose a mythological namesake, (2) present a themed parade, (3) first to use floats in a Carnival parade, (4) and follow it with a Tableau Ball

In 1867 Mardi Gras in Galveston, Texas started but officially had a revival of Mardi Gras on Galveston Island in 1984.

In 1871 Carnival's second Krewe emerges as the Twelfth Night Reveler's. They select Mardi Gras's First ever queen by drawing a golden bean from a King Cake. They hold the first grand march at a masked ball. First account of "Throws". They started the throwing trinkets and candy from floats which evolved from the practice of throwing sugar coated almonds called "Dragee" into the crowd

In 1872 The Krewe of Rex established the King of Carnival, and an international symbol of the holiday. And shaped a lot of traditions, like organizing the first daytime parade and deciding that Carnival colors would be purple, green and gold.

   Mystic Krewe of Aquarius
1311 Winnie
Galveston, Texas 77550

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