The History of Mardi Gras in New Orleans

Visitors come from far and wide to take part in New Orleans’ Mardi Gras. With an average of 1.4 million in attendance, Carnival Season in South Louisiana is one of the region’s single most significant traditions. The revelry, colorful beads, costumes, and floats may be symbols of the holiday that shuts down the Big Easy, but the history of Mardi Gras is as diverse as the city’s heritage.

Mardi Gras Around the World

For many who are familiar with how New Orleans likes to party, it’s easy for them to forget (or completely overlook) the fact that Carnival is a religious-based holiday. Mardi Gras, French for Fat Tuesday, is steeped in Roman Catholic tradition and is celebrated in basically any country with a large Catholic population. From France, Spain, and Italy to Cuba, Brazil, and Trinidad & Tobago, Carnival Season starts with what is known as the Epiphany, or All King’s Day. It begins on January 6 and culminates on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of Lenten Season. Each country and culture celebrates differently, but the traditions typically include balls, costumes, parades, and parties—a chance to fatten up before 40 days and nights of fasting. Mardi Gras Day is determined by Easter and therefore, changes every year.

Carnival in the Big Easy

Much of what we know of Mardi Gras in New Orleans is owed to our French and Spanish colonial history. Before the Louisiana Purchase, the Crescent City was affectionately known as the Northernmost Caribbean city, with Creole French its primary language and the Catholic Church at the helm. Mardi Gras was originally celebrated in the form of masked balls and private parties with, of course, the consumption of the famous King Cake, a doughy, oval-shaped delicacy of cinnamon and colorful sugar. But as the colony grew, so did the celebration. Even after Louisiana was purchased by the United States, becoming the nation’s 18th state, Louisiana Creole culture persisted. The first parade rolled through the city in 1837 with the first float making its debut in 1857.

Parades, Krewes, and Mardi Gras Indians

Mardi Gras parades and the groups, known as krewes, that form them are just as storied as the city itself. Many of the social aid and pleasure clubs comprised of legacies of New Orleans’ oldest families have some of the longest standing krewes. The historic Twelfth Night Revelers, for example, have been holding secret balls since 1870. A few of the most famous and largest parades to roll through New Orleans are Zulu, Rex, Endymion, and Bacchus. The Mardi Gras Indians, founded well over a century ago, are a mystic krewe with a rich history in the various wards and neighborhoods of the city. Catch them parading with their distinct tribes during Carnival and year-round wearing elaborate, handmade costumes and motifs.

Future Mardi Gras Dates

  • March 5, 2019
  • February 25, 2020
  • February 16, 2021
  • March 1, 2022
  • February 21, 2023
  • February 13, 2024
  • March 4, 2025
  • February 17, 2026
  • February 9, 2027

Come to New Orleans and get a taste of Mardi Gras for yourself! For local travel resources, visit or request a visitor guide here.

Can’t make it this year? Get Mardi Gras shipped to your home with an authentic king cake from Caluda’s!