History of Mardi Gras & Lafayette’s Mardi Gras celebrations There are many theories concerning the origin of Mardi Gras. However, it is generally accepted that the observance of Mardi Gras (also known as Carnival) arises from the desire to have a good time before fasting - to eat, drink and be merry - before beginning the period of fasting during Lent.

The term “Carnival” is derived from the phrase "carne vale", which translates to "farewell to flesh". Fasting is an old custom and during the Middle Ages it was a very serious matter. The consumption of meat, eggs and milk were forbidden during Lent by both ecclesiastical and statute law. Even as late as 1560, laws were passed punishing butchers for slaughtering animals during the Lenten season.

Throughout the eighteenth century, the festival of carnival was celebrated across the world, Russia, Africa, India, Persia, England, and throughout the European continent. During this period, the carnival in France was encouraged and sponsored by the French kings. The French Revolution ended the French celebration of carnival. However, early in the nineteenth century the celebration was reinstated by Napoleon with all of its’ former revelry. It is thought that during this time, students from New Orleans, who were attending school in Paris, witness these grand celebrations and brought the idea the celebration of carnival back to New Orleans, and eventually to Acadiana.

The first Mardi Gras celebrations in Acadiana were very primitive. The women made costumes for their men to "Courir de Mardi Gras” (literally translated “Fat Tuesday run”). On Mardi Gras day, these masked men would go from farm to farm knocking on doors, singing songs, dancing, and asking for chickens, rice, and whatever was necessary to make a gumbo. The Captain led the group of maskers and there was much merriment and clowning. They were usually followed by musicians in wagons which also carried the hens and gumbo ingredients they had collected along the way.

The culmination was when everyone returned to their starting point and the women made a gumbo with the ingredients. This unique celebration is still going on in the many rural communities of Louisiana, including Mamou and Eunice. Large numbers of tourists from all over the United States and the world come to “Cajun Country” come to participate in the annual "Courir de Mardi Gras” festivities.

The first recorded celebration of Mardi Gras in Lafayette was on February 14, 1869 when according to the local newspaper ". . .Clement's band provided the music in the courthouse. . . ". But the first city wide Mardi Gras observance was in 1897, when Manuel Pellerin initiated the idea of a Mardi Gras King and Queen, a parade, a pageant and a ball. He worked with H.A. Vandercruyssen, J.T. Allingham and Maurice Patin, who designed, constructed, painted, and supervised the chariots or carnival floats. It was that first Mardi Gras Ball and Parade in 1897 that set the pattern for all future Lafayette Mardi Gras celebrations. The first King was Judge George Armand "Bedon" (High Hat) Martin, known as a “ . . .raconteur, dentist, planter, solon, and genial gentlemen."

Judge Martin reigned as King Attakapas, and on March 2, 1897, he roared into Lafayette on a Southern Pacific locomotive that had been transformed into his royal throne. All future Kings arrived in Lafayette in the same grand manner until 1961, when Herbert Abdalla (the 22nd King Gabriel) used the train for the last time. Judge Martin's Queen was Isure Mcdaniel, and the two royal figures and their royal courts reigned in magnificent oriental robes. King Martin led five other Royal chariots in a grand parade. Following the first Mardi Gras parade, a Grand Ball was held in the Courthouse. The older residents of Lafayette claim this was the finest ever seen.
It was not until 1926 that another city-wide Mardi Gras celebration was recorded. Court Immaculta of the Catholic Daughters of America in¬augurated the first children's carnival, the Krewe of Oberon, which still exists today. In 1927, the first Lafayette High School Carnival was held and the American Legion held their first Mardi Gras parade. Louis A. Broussard made the floats for this parade using over 40 yards of gold satin for the Royal Chariot.

In 1933, planning for an annual city-wide celebration was started by Stanley Martin, Post No. 69 of the American Legion in Lafayette. In 1934, a city-wide carnival celebration became reality under the leadership of Post members Gaston Hebert, Stanley Martin and Laurent Comeaux, who joined with various civic leaders of Lafayette, including Maurice Heymann and Paul Krauss. The group invited representatives from all the civic organizations to a meeting where the Greater Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras Association was formed. Gaston Hebert was elected President of the Association in 1934 and served as such until 1940. Many credit Maurice Heymann as being the "father of Lafayette's Mardi Gras" because he underwrote the group’s activities many times until it and was on its financial feet.

During these formative years local teacher Lucille Griffin started the Lafayette High Carnival Ball and help to organize the traditions of Lafayette's Mardi Gras. The first costumes were designed by another teacher at the High School, Miss Inez Neyland. In those days, the floats were pulled by mules and the night parades were lighted by men carrying burning torches. Mardi Gras in Lafayette thrived from 1934 through 1941. All festivities were suspended from 1942 through 1947 due to World War II. In 1948, the celebration was revived and has been held continuously, with the exception of 1951 (Korean Conflict).
In 1949 the Krewe of Gabriel was formed to assist the Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras Association. The Krewe was the idea of Dr. James Comeaux, who reigned as King Gabriel in 1950, to serve as an “organization within an organization" and to help Greater Southwest promote Mardi Gras on a larger scale.

The first Commodore of the Krewe of Gabriel was F.K. Dowty. Albert Miller was First Mate, John Edward Broussard, Second Mate, Robbie Castille, Purser, H.J. Lagroue, Secretary. Directors included Herbert Abdalla, Dr. James Comeaux, Henry Heymann, Frank Myers and Dr. Edgar Breaux.
The City's Carnival rulers were officially named King Gabriel and Queen Evangeline in 1934 upon a suggestion by Miss Edith Garland Dupre. Those names symbolize the Acadian sweethearts who were separated during their exile from Nova Scotia and were immortalized in the Longfellow poem "Evangeline". George Gardiner of Lafayette was the first King Gabriel and Mabel Broussard of Eunice was the first Queen Evangeline.

In 1958, the Lafayette Mardi Gras Association was created. Their monarchs are King Toussaint O'Overture and Queen Simone Signoret. Unlike some other krewes, Lafayette Mardi Gras' court and pageants are not limited to members of the Krewe. They hold a grand parade on Mardi Gras day and are well known for outstanding bands and elaborate floats in their parade.

Throughout the years a number of private carnival krewes have been formed. They hold private formal balls and select their own kings and queens. Most of the krewes have elaborate floats and participate in one of Lafayette’s Mardi Gras parades.


Key dates in the history of Lafayette’s Mardi Gras celebration:

1869: First recorded Mardi Gras observance in Lafayette
1896: First city-wide celebration
1897: King Attakapas arrives in Lafayette on a Southern Pacific locomotive (tradition remains through 1961)
1897: First parade and ball are held
1926: Krewe of Oberon is formed and city-wide celebrations resume.
1927: First Lafayette High School Carnival and first American Legion parade
1934: Civic leaders form the Greater Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras Association to coordinate and promote annual Mardi Gras celebrations.
1934: King Gabriel and Queen Evangeline become the official names for Lafayette’s Mardi Gras Royalty
1942: Mardi Gras celebrations suspended during duration of WWII
1948: Annual Mardi Gras celebrations return to Lafayette
1949: Krewe of Gabriel is formed to assist Greater Southwest promote Lafayette’s Mardi Gras celebration.
1965: First Tuesday night parade honoring the Queen Evangeline
1970: Tuesday night Queen’s parade moved to Monday night.
1986: Saturday night parade added with the Krewe of Bonaparte.
1987: First parade that physically ran through the Cajun Dome.
1990: Saturday afternoon parade added with the “Children’s Parade”
1993: Parade route extended to run through Cajun Field
1993: “Le Festival de Mardi Gras a Lafayette”, a “family friendly” atmosphere with games, carnival rides, Cajun food and live music was formed at Cajun Field
1998: Friday night “Kick-Off Parade” added
2005: Parades expanded again with the addition of the Krewe of Carnivale en Rio parade

Greater Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras Association’s role:
The association is not a krewe, but is a board of volunteers who serve as the organizing body for Lafayette’s Mardi Gras celebration. The Association coordinates the parades, including securing the floats, hiring the marching bands, purchasing insurance, working the Public Works, Police and Fire Departments, as well as other governmental agencies to coordinate the festivities. The Association also produces the “Le Festival de Mardi Gras a’ Lafayette” at Cajun Field, which is the group’s major fundraiser. Funds raised are used to underwrite the costs of the parades, the City Ball, and other Mardi Gras activities.

The Association has no dues and no paid employees (all volunteer). The Association gets no public funds, although the Lafayette Consolidated Government provides many in-kind services. The costs of Mardi Gras – the biggest free party in Lafayette- are bonre by the various Krewes and their members, as well as by the Greater South West Louisiana Mardi Gras Association.

Independent academic studies have shown that Mardi Gras, through all of its’ related activities, krewes and participants have an annual economic impact of over $110 million to the economy of Acadiana.

No history of Mardi Gras would be complete without mentioning Edith Nugent... Who as chairman of the Ladies Committee from 1956 through 1978 and served the activities of this association with grace, dignity, tact and diplomacy.

In closing I would like to end by saying

WATCH THE PARADES....
JOINT IN THE FUN AND LESSEZ LE BON TEMP ROULETIIIIIII

VIRGINIA YONGUE



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OFFICIAL COLORS

The traditional colors of Mardi Gras are purple (symbolic of justice), green (symbolic of faith) and gold (symbolic of power). The accepted story behind the original selection of these colors originates from 1872 when the Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff of Russia visited New Orleans. During his stay, he was given the honor of selecting the official Mardi Gras colors by the Krewe of Rex. For the Grand Duke, the decision was simple, and true to his noble roots, he selected the official colors of the House of Romanov.  The 1892 Rex Parade theme ("Symbolism of Colors") first gave meaning to the representation of the official Mardi Gras colors.

According to lore, the colors of Mardi Gras also influenced the choice of school colors for Louisiana State University and Tulane University. When LSU was deciding on its colors, the stores in New Orleans had stocked-up on fabrics of purple, green and gold for the upcoming Mardi Gras Season. LSU, opting for purple and gold, bought a large quantity of the available cloth. Tulane purchased much of the only remaining color...green.

 

KING CAKE

The King Cake is a brioche-style cake traditionally made only during the weeks prior to Mardi Gras. The King Cake is a bakery delicacy made from rich Danish dough and covered with a poured sugar topping decorated in the traditional Mardi Gras-colored sugars of purple, green and gold. This colorful topping is representative of a jeweled crown in honor of the Three Wise Men who visited the Christ Child on Epiphany.  Epiphany, also known as Twelfth Night (January 6th) is when the Carnival Season officially begins each year.

 

The King Cake tradition is believed to have begun in Louisiana with French settlers around 1870, who were themselves continuing a custom which dated back to 12th century France, when a similar cake was used to celebrate the coming of the Magi twelve days after Christmas bearing gifts for the Christ Child. This celebration was also once known as King's Day. As a symbol of this Holy Day, a tiny plastic baby (symbolic of the baby Jesus) is placed inside each King Cake but in older times, the hidden items were usually coins, beans, pecans or peas.

 

Today, the cakes are baked in many shapes but originally, they were round to portray the circular route take by the Magi in order to confuse King Herod, whose army was attempting to follow the Wise Men so that the Christ Child could be killed.  In 1871, the tradition of choosing the Queen of Mardi Gras was determined by who drew the prize within the cake. Today, such a find is still deemed to be a sign of good luck and it customary for the person who discovers the hidden plastic baby to host the next King Cake Party.

King cakes are available at bakeries all over South Louisiana, but only January 6 through Mardi Gras Day.

 

THROWS

The tradition of throwing trinkets to the crowds during Mardi Gras parades was initiated in the early 1870s by the Twelfth Night Revelers and has become a time-honored expectation. In 1884, the Krewe of Rex threw the first medallions (silver-dollar-sized commemorative coins later called doubloons) instead of the customary trinkets.

 

Today's doubloons are usually aluminum and anodized in a variety of colors, depicting the parade theme on one side and the emblem of the particular Krewe on the other. Many of these doubloons later become collectors' items. Early medallions were much heavier than those minted today and were usually awarded only as ball favors. 

Other popular throws include long strings of beads and plastic cups bearing the emblems of the Krewes. The traditional cry of parade-goers who are pleading for throws is: "Throw me something, Mister!"