A history of Mardi Gras

When you think of Mardi Gras what do you imagine? Floats? People in costume? Beads? Maybe even beignets? Continue reading for a short history of Mardi Gras. Contains Mardi Gras inspired French vocabulary.

The New Orleans Mardi Gras is one of the most well known celebrations in the world. Popular for its parades, street parties, beads, food, and festivities, this celebration actually has its roots in France. Brought to New Orleans by French explorers Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and Sieur de Bienville. Like most French traditions, Mardi Gras has its roots in Christian tradition and in particular, to the celebration of Lent.

During the season of Lent, Christians are expected to fast and to reflect, in preparation for Easter, the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. During this period, Christians are not allowed to eat meat, and must abstain from activities that are too extravagant like parties and the like. In the olden times, probably since the middle ages, Christian Europeans devised a fun way to prepare for the season of fasting and thus, la Carnavale (Carnival) was born.

La Carnavale comes from the latin word carne meaning "meat" and levare meaning "to remove". The whole purpose of the celebration was to feast and party before the start of Lent. La Carnavale culminated on the Tuesday before the beginning of Lent called Mardi Gras, which in English literally means Fat Tuesday. On this day, households would finish all the meat and fat remaining in their house to be sure they were prepared for Lent.

Today, Mardi Gras has evolved into something completely of its own. It has turned into grand parties, beautiful floats, rich food, a lot of alcohol, a showcase of local artistry, and most importantly, the freedom to express oneself. Mardi Gras is celebrated today in different ways, in different parts of the world, with the same intention of coming together to celebrate life.  



Now that you know a little bit of history about Mardi Gras, here are some Mardi Gras inspired words to add to your vocabulary!

le Carnaval Carnival
Mardi Gras Fat Tuesday
le mercredi des Cendres Ash Wednesday
le carême Lent
la Pâques Easter
Joyeuse Pâques Happy Easter
jeûner to fast
carne (latin) meat
levare (latin) to remove
le char the float
le défilé / la parade / le cortège the parade
célébrer / fêter to celebrate
des confettis confetti
une babiole trinket
une paillette sequin sequin

le masque 


un bijou


un collier


les perles


la foule


un costume



Try using these words the next time you go to a celebration of Carnaval or Mardi Gras! Have a Mardi Gras or Carnavale story to share? Let us know through the comments down below. And, as they say in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, "Laissez les bons temps rouler" , which in English means "Let the good times roll"!


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