Mardi Gras for Texans: More than Just Beads and Booze
By: Piper Meeks, Contributor
The Mardi Gras tradition involves much more than just masks, beads, parades, King Cakes, and live entertainment. Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday,” originated thousands of years ago in Rome as a religious-based event where people would basically gorge themselves with all of the meat and alcohol they could consume on the night before Ash Wednesday in preparation for several weeks of fasting, or Lent. The tradition spread from Rome to other countries, including France, Spain, England and Germany, among others.
Many believe the Mardi Gras tradition first arrived in the United States in the late 17th century when two French brothers, Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, were sent by King Louis XIV to defend France’s claim on its Louisiana territory, which, at the time, included the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. The brothers settled near New Orleans, Louisiana, on March 3, 1699, and held a celebration, claiming the land as Point du Mardi Gras. Over the following years, the holiday was celebrated with lavish masquerades and street parties until the Spanish took control of New Orleans and banned the French tradition.
When Louisiana became a U.S. state in 1812, the Mardi Gras tradition returned in full force. A group of students who witnessed the Mardi Gras celebration in France decided to bring those traditions to the streets of New Orleans by wearing extravagant costumes and dancing in the streets on Mardi Gras in 1827. The Mistick Krewe of Comus, a secret society of New Orleans businessmen, incorporated marching bands and rolling floats in the Mardi Gras celebration of 1857, building the foundation for what would later evolve into the Mardi Gras celebration we are familiar with today.
Many states celebrate Mardi Gras, including Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and of course, Texas. Texas may not be as well-known throughout the country for its Mardi Gras traditions as other states that participate, but residents of Texas are more than familiar with this widely popular cultural celebration.
The first Mardi Gras celebration in Texas took place in Galveston in 1867. The first few years were celebrated with a masked ball and theatre performances until the first Mardi Gras Krewes emerged in 1871, which initiated a more extravagant celebration than seen in prior years.
Today Galveston’s Mardi Gras attracts over 200,000 people from Texas and all around the country, making it the largest Mardi Gras celebration in Texas. Over the course of three weeks, beginning on February 1st, there will be over twenty-eight different parades, including four brand new parades, and twenty balcony parties, which showcase thirteen different bands and artists for live entertainment. There are two different locations for the parades: the Galveston Seawall and the Uptown Entertainment District. The Seawall will host six parades, with two on each weekend. Hotels offer weekend packages at discounted prices so Texans and visitors alike can enjoy the Mardi Gras atmosphere without worrying about cost.
Galveston is not the only Texas city that has celebrated Mardi Gras since the 1800s. From the mid-1800s to the late 1870s, Jefferson, Texas, was a steamboat trading partner with New Orleans. Steamboats coming from New Orleans would travel north on the Mississippi River, detour onto the Red River, cross Caddo Lake, and then veer off onto to Big Cypress Bayou toward the Port of Jefferson. In these decades, the New Orleans heritage and culture had a big influence on the city of Jefferson, and in 1871 Jefferson held its first Mardi Gras celebration. Jefferson continues to celebrate Mardi Gras with live music and parades to this day. This year, the celebration will go on from February 8th through February 10th.
The Port Arthur and Dallas Mardi Gras celebrations began much later than those in Galveston and Jefferson. Port Arthur’s first Mardi Gras was held in February 1993 after three years of planning by the community. The celebration includes several parades and various artists and bands over a period of a few days. This year Port Arthur’s Mardi Gras will be held February 7th through February 10th and will feature carnival rides, ten musical guests, and eight parades, including a golf cart/ATV parade, a motorcycle parade, and a munchkin parade.
The Dallas area has only been celebrating Mardi Gras for a little over a decade. This year, Lake Dallas will hold a Mardi Gras celebration with parades, New Orleans style food, and live jazz music on February 12th. Fair Park in Dallas will hold a “Mardi Gras Texas Style” celebration on February 16th. The Randy Rogers Band and the Josh Abbott Band, both from Texas, will be headlining the event, which will host twenty-eight bands on five stages in just a single day.
The Mardi Gras tradition has evolved into much more than a religion-based event. Families look forward to participating in Mardi Gras balls and parades throughout the year. If you’re looking for some live entertainment, delicious New Orleans-style Cajun food, and extravagant Mardi Gras parades, there’s no need to go to New Orleans to find it. Texas has its own take on Mardi Gras, which some may argue might actually be better.