Beyond the beads

There is no doubt you have adorned metallic purple, gold and green beaded necklaces at some point in your life.  As ubiquitous as these “Mardi Gras” beads have become, the origin behind them is a mystery to most. While many associate the holiday with New Orleans, the first Mardi Gras was celebrated in Mobile, Alabama in 1703.  It was there, in the southern-most point of the state, that the first secret society, Masque de la Mobile, was established.  From there, more secret societies were established and are today known as krewes.  Krewes are essentially clubs where members design and ride floats during the Mardi Gras parades, throwing beads and overindulging in food and drink.   

(Photo courtesy of Flickr)

Extravagant balls marked the 1700s before the 1800s moved into the era of Carnivals. Carriages and horseback riders filled New Orleans with festivity and food during Carnival.  Today, Mardi Gras combines these traditions, both ball and parade, both secret society and public appearance.  This is why many New Orleanians call the season the “Greatest Free Show on Earth,” as it is completely funded by different and private krewes, but celebrated and enjoyed by all.

A Krewe Carnival (Photo Courtesy of Flickr)

Beyond beads, MoonPies are too associated with Mardi Gras.  Perhaps you have passed the Moon Pie store on Market Street or snacked on the unique graham cracker, chocolate sandwich during a Charleston parade.  Originating in 1917, the Chattanooga snack was enjoyed for coal miners’ lunches. Later arriving to Mobile in 1970, the MoonPie replaced Cracker Jacks as a lighter, easier throw from the floats.  In fact, Mobile displays a giant lighted MoonPie drop, similar to the Times Square New Year’s Ball, on the nights leading up to Fat Tuesday each Mardi Gras season.

MoonPie General Store on Market (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

Maddie Stauss, a junior from Baton Rouge, remembers being “so excited to drive down to New Orleans and watch the parades” as a child growing up in Louisiana.  Today, she says “it means spending time relaxing and having fun with family.” So, next time you don those iconic plastic beads or stop by the MoonPie store on Market, remember the rich history behind them.
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