The Carnival in France: 13th Century
Based on the historical records, it started in Nice in 1294. The Comte de Provence started going to Nice for the carnivals. Records state that even during the time, masquerades, jugglers and balls were already part of the festivities.
The popularity of the event spread all over the country. One of the most notable characteristics was that all participants wore masks and extravagant costumes.
The Middle Ages
The popularity of Mardi Gras in France spread all over Europe. From 1294 onwards the festivity captivated other European nations including Spain, Austria and Italy. In spite of the revelry and boisterous nature of the event, the Church was unable to put a stop to the practice. Instead they incorporated it into the Christian feast known as Lent.
The words Mardi Gras mean Fat Tuesday in French. The fact that the carnival name is French is proof for some that the carnival began in France.
There are several possible explanations as to how it got this name. Taking place before Ash Wednesday, it’s been suggested that it was the time when people got to indulge in food before fasting on Lent.
Another legend about Mardi Gras in France states that the name was derived from the practice of using all the fats before Ash Wednesday. The name could have also come from the custom of displaying a fat ox in the streets on the said date.
The day is also known as the Shrove Tuesday. The word was derived from the words to shrive. It means confessing one’s sins and getting absolution. The days from Sunday, Monday to Tuesday was called Shrovetide. It’s possible that the practice began here. After the festivities, people would confess their sins and prepare for Lent.
From Paris to New Orleans
Because Mardi Gras in France was so popular, it was hardly a surprise when the first French settlers in America carried the practice with them. It was in 1699 when the carnival was introduced in New Orleans. Over time the practice became very popular with the residents of the city.
However there are some who believe that the French first imported the event to Mobile, Alabama. Carnival was first celebrated in 1703 in Mobile. There are also records indicating that there were French colonists living in the area.
The people in Louisiana contest this though. They state that their ancestors were the ones who inaugurated carnival in the US. Wherever it began, carnival proved enormously appealing to the people. In spite of the various European influences that would appear, the French flavor has never been lost.
The history of Mardi Gras in France are still filled with some questions. Some are wondering if it really started there or somewhere else. But its role in popularizing the event cannot be ignored. And it was also responsible for bringing the event to the America.