By: Denise Young
Ok, alot of people think that Mardi Gra started in New Orleans but they are wrong. The editor goes to Mobile Al to see first hand this culture experience.
A type of Mardi Gras festival was brought to Mobile by the founding French Catholic settlers of French Louisiana, as the celebration of Mardi Gras was part of preparation for Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. The first record of the holiday being marked in America is on March 3, 1699, at a camp site along the Mississippi River delta. Following the construction of Fort Louis de La Louisiane in 1702, the soldiers and settlers celebrated Mardi Gras beginning in 1703. Thus started an annual tradition, only occasionally canceled because of war.
Mardi Gras has evolved over three centuries in the Mobile area, combining tradition and culture with new ideas. French Mardi Gras arrived in North America with the founding French settlers, the Le Moyne brothers, Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville and Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville. In the late 17th century, King Louis XIV sent the pair to defend France's claim on the territory of La Louisiane, which included what are now the U.S. states of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
The two explorers, arriving first at Dauphin Island in what is now Alabama, navigated the mouth of the Mississippi River (charted by Cavelier de La Salle, 1682), sailed upstream, and on March 3, 1699, celebrated, naming the spot Pointe du Mardi Gras 60 miles downriver from the wilderness that would become New Orleans. Meanwhile, in 1702, the 21-year-old Bienville founded the settlement of Mobile (Alabama), as the first capital of French Louisiana,and in 1703, the American Mardi Gras tradition began with French annual celebrations in Mobile.
The feasting and revelry on Mardi Gras in Mobile was called Boeuf Gras (fatted ox). Masked balls, with the Masque de la Mobile, began in 1704. The first known parade was in 1711, when Mobile's Boeuf Gras Society paraded on Mardi Gras, with 16 men pushing a cart carrying a large papier-mâché cow's head.
By 1720, Biloxi became the second capital of Louisiana, and also celebrated French customs. Due to fear of tides and hurricanes, in 1723, the capital was moved to New Orleans, founded in 1718. That city also later started a Mardi Gras celebration.
In 1763, Mobile came under British control. Its restrictions on free blacks and racial segregation caused many Creoles to leave Mobile and move west towards New Orleans. In 1780, Spain took control of the Mobile area in the aftermath of the American Revolution. The Carnival celebration incorporated the Spanish custom of torch-lit parades on Twelfth Night (January 6, also known as Epiphany.) In 1813, Mobile became a United States city, included in the Mississippi Territory. In 1817 it was part of the Alabama Territory. In the Anglican and Episcopal traditions, the day before Ash Wednesday was celebrated as Shrove Tuesday, marked by consumption of rich foods before the fasting practices of Lent.
In 1830, a group of revelers, led by Michael Krafft, who was likely influenced by his Pennsylvania Swedish traditions of celebrating the New Year, stayed awake all New Year's Eve, started a dawn parade on January 1, 1831, making noise with cowbells, hoes, and rakes. The group became the first parading mystic society, calling themselves the Cowbellion de Rakin Society, in a parody of French. They had annual parades each New Year's Eve. Nearly 125 years after Mobile's first parade of 1711, members of the Cowbellion de Rakin Society, took their parade tradition to New Orleans in 1835, eventually forming the Mistick Krewe of Comus.
One of things about this ball of fun is the excitement of the parades and getting things threw at you! Check out some pics that I took at the parades in 2013!
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