While for everyone Mardi Gras is celebrated in a very cheerful way, provoking laughter and joy with its thousands of costumes, delicious food, and vibrant music, there is also a darker side to the festive masquerade.
Mardi Gras, which in French means “Fat Tuesday”, is the celebrated method of indulgence before the Lenten fast. The streets are dyed with many colors, predominantly purple symbolizing justice, green faith, and gold the power.
This carnival first arrived in New Orleans in 1837, although the first floats were not seen until 1857, with the arrival of the Mistick Krewe de Comus, the oldest Mardi Gras Krewe in the city and still active today.
Behind such beautiful or spooky masks are deep pagan roots: Mardi Gras goes back thousands of years to pagan spring and fertility celebrations in ancient Rome.
Lupercalia was a three-day fertility festival, during which people dedicated themselves to cleansing the ancient city of evil spirits and unleashing health, fertility, and rebirth. On the other hand, Saturnalia, an ancient festival in honor of the sun god Saturn, people celebrated it with a sacrifice, a feast afterward, gift-giving and a general carnival atmosphere.
There are also different groups which give an even darker style to the carnival, for example, the North Side Skull and Bone Gang. Very early in the morning, a large group of masked people parade through the streets while their voices echo with a rather chilling chant: “We come to remember you before you die. You’d better get your life together. Next time you see us, it’s too late to cry!”
The North Side Skull and Bone Gang is a tradition that has been maintained for 200 years; supposedly the spirits of the families return from the cemetery to parade with their ancestors on Mardi Gras day. If you are interested, you can see for yourself this unique New Orleans Mardi Gras tradition by visiting the Backstreet Cultural Museum at 5 am.
Not only walking skulls are seen during this festival, but also, specifically, ghosts from the Mardi Gras past.
Arnaud Cazenave, a man of great wealth had a beautiful daughter named Germaine Cazenave. Germaine was an extremely popular young woman, so much so that she was repeatedly crowned Mardi Gras Queen, chosen more times than any other woman in the history of New Orleans.
At one of her coronations, her father made her the perfect dress and it was so perfect that she asked for a duplicate dress so she could be buried in it when it was time for her to leave the earthly world.
It is said that Germaine Cazenave Wells’ spirit moves frequently and sometimes walks at night in the Mardi Gras museum, inside Arnaud’s Restaurant where her memories are displayed: past dresses resting on the shoulders of mannequins trying to resemble the beauty of that woman.
Would you like to celebrate the Mardi Gras at New Orleans or have you ever done it before?