Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, Carnaval... by whatever name you chose, today is "the largest street fair on the planet," with an estimated 6 million revelers at Carnaval in Brazil:
Meanwhile, in the United States, New Orleans gets all the media attention for its Mardi Gras madness, but the entire Gulf Coast goes crazy for this holiday. In fact Mobile, AL is credited with the first Mardi Gras celebration in 1703 (or 1699 - depends on who you ask).
Mardi Gras revelry was suspended during the Civil War, but was revived (again) in Mobile in 1866. Legend has it that that one man, Joe Cain, rode through the streets on a coal cart, dressed in Chickasaw Indian regalia. Obviously, Joe was also drunk as a skunk (which explains a lot about Mardi Gras parades...) When Joe passed on, his second funeral procession (it's a long story) was the precursor to the big Sunday parades. Now the Sunday before Mardi Gras is now known in Mobile as "Joe Cain Day," with celebrations rivaling Fat Tuesday.
Still, New Orleans boasts the largest of U.S. celebrations. An estimated 1.4 million revelers converge on the city each year for the holiday, and guests and locals consume an estimated 500,000 king cakes between Epiphany (January 6th) and Mardi Gras. And at the two largest parades in the city, Endymion and Bacchus, krewes will distribute nearly 30 million strands of beads.
For more information...
Sociological Images has a series of several intriguing posts about Mardi Gras from a social and cultural perspective. Here is a sample of their posts:
- Race and Mardi Gras in Mobile, AL
- Mardi Gras Krewes, tourism, and segregation
- Where the beads come from