Why such a name?! "Mardi" is French for "Fat" and "Gras" is French for "Tuesday". This holiday has some fun history too!
Mardi Gras originated with pagan Roman Carnival celebrations that took place in mid-February and celebrated the end of winter. It was extended from the Twelfth night after Christmas (January 6) to the day preceding Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. The day before Ash Wednesday, known as Fat Tuesday, is traditionally seen as a last day of revelry before Lent. Mardi Gras has been celebrated in Paris since the Middle Ages with parades and masked balls. The Mardi Gras tradition was exported to America in 1699, when French explorers settled at the mouth of the Mississippi River and established the city of New Orleans. New Orleans remained under French rule for much of the next century.
Since the 1870s, many objects have been tossed from floats. In the 1880s, the King of Carnival (Rex) began throwing inexpensive glass beads on strings to parade goers instead of medallions, the start of a tradition. These beautiful glass beads were grouped with almonds and coated in sugar and thrown along with other confections into the peasant crowds that begged for them on the side of the road. The beads were an instant hit and were soon adopted by all krewes (parade organizers during Carnival) to throw in their parades. Early glass beads were imported from Czechoslovakia or Japan. The first beads were all purple, green, and gold. The meaning of the colors was important: purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power. However, today you can find beads in all colors and featuring almost anything you can imagine: sports teams, food, flowers, rainbows, animals, smiley faces. Some beads even have flashing lights.
Happy Mardi Gras everyone!