The tradition of parade floats continued this year. Photo: pixabay.com

While not many Atlantans celebrated Mardi Gras with conviction, people from all over the world traveled to historic New Orleans to participate in the festivities. On Feb. 13, thousands of people watched the celebration of “Fat Tuesday.” Colossal and intricate parade floats and masked party goers filled the streets.

Many see this holiday as soley an immense and wild party, but they fail to understand the history and traditions of the celebration. Mardi Gras in the U.S. can be traced back to colonial North America, when French explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville settled the colony of Mobile in 1702. This was the site of the very first Mardi Gras celebration in America. Baptiste later settled New Orleans in 1718 and began celebrating the holiday in the 1730’s.

These earlier celebrations did not include a large parade and floats, but rather elegant dance balls which are a tradition that continues but on a smaller scale. Street processions and carriages were incorporated by 1830, giving us our modern image of Mardi Gras. Junior Lane Goldman went on his annual trip to New Orleans to take part in the parade. “This year was my first time riding on the float,” he said. “It really changed my perspective, going from seeing just one small part of it to seeing the whole thing.”

The custom of mask-wearing is another tradition which has origins that date back to the early days of the holiday. People wore masks to conceal their identity as a way to escape societal norms and to act freely without consequences. This idea of an anonymous figure is still seen today as party attendees wear masks in the gold, purple and green colors that have come to be associated with the holiday. In fact, this tradition is so prominent that the state of Louisiana requires the people operating on the parade floats to wear masks.

While it is celebrated quite extravagantly in America, some European countries also mark Fat Tuesday as the day before Ash Wednesday. In the city of Binche in Belgium, Mardi Gras is one of the most important days of the year, as hundreds of people dance throughout the streets from dawn until dusk.