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With nearly 175 years of history in New Orleans, Mardi Gras has had time to gather plenty of tradition and history.  According to Arthur Hardy’s book, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the New Orleans newspaper was reporting parades on foot of masked participants as early as 1837. 

Today the entire burden of organizing and paying for parades rests on Krewes.  Few know the word “Krewes” outside the area of Mardi Gras celebration.  They are private clubs with membership by invitation only and date back to The Mistick Krewe of Comus in New Orleans that formed in 1857.  Currently, there are 53 parades in the New Orleans area alone entirely paid for by Krewe members and that is why Mardi Gras is billed The Greatest Free Show on Earth. 

Comus also provided the first parade with costumed maskers and floats in 1857.  They borrowed floats from Mobile’s Cowbellian deRakin Society that celebrated on New Years Eve and loaned the floats to Comus for Mardi Gras Day.  

The Cowbellian Society is a great clue to understanding Mardi Gras for those outside the area of celebration.  This very formal sounding organization celebrated on New Year’s Eve when the public would take to the streets, reigning in the new year with cowbells and rakes for noisemakers.  From that, the Society took its name so you can see there is a lot of tongue in cheek connected with Mardi Gras. 

 

The celebration of the Carnival season by Krewe’s also included masked balls that were for members and invited guests only.  Masking and the official beginning of Carnival Season go back to Europe well before the celebration in America.  Masks were common of the streets of Venice, home of the art of Venetian masks, throughout the year and often used to cover identity for promiscuous behavior.  In the Middle Ages, the Church stepped in to control the custom by limiting the time of masking to The Fest of the Epiphany (Jan. 6th) to Mardi Gras Day, the day before Ash Wednesday.   

 

This is still the official period for Carnival season. Carnival means farewell to meat, referring to abstaining from meat during Lent.  So on January 6th in South Louisiana, Mardi Gras music starts playing on the radio and women break out their Mardi Gras jewelry to get in the spirit. Masks are a popular theme in Mardi jewelry because of their strong connection to the season.  Pins are the most popular jewelry item and masks along with jesters and crowns are the most popular themes. 

Popularity of crown themes date back to The Krewe of Rex (Latin for king), founded in 1872.  Rex parades on Mardi Gras Day and the Mayor hands over the keys of the City to Rex to rule for that day.  Rex sent out an edict that schools, businesses, post offices, and the Custom House should close on Mardi Gras Day and New Orleans follows the King’s edict. 

In addition to Rex, most other Krewes have royalty with kings, queens, and a court that changes every year.  Members or royalty have favors they hand out and crown pins are among the most popular.  Krewe members attending balls also hand out favors with Mardi Gras pins popular among them also. 

 

Jesters become popular themes among Mardi Gras jewelry because of their connection to royal courts.  While pins are the most popular Mardi Gras jewelry for both favors and accessories to get in the spirit, women often like to match them with earrings for sets that can be worn to work or just for everyday wear during Carnival season.  Many have matching earrings, which can be found on our site by changing the MGP to MGE before the number and using the search. 

Part II will continue the history and traditions of Mardi Gras told in jewelry by examining charm bracelets, designed with specific themes for different elements of Mardi Gras.

Comments (0) Posted by admin on Monday, January 31st, 2011


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