Mardi Gras Carnival Art / February 19, 2019 / Cecelia Montgomery
Characterized by costumes bright decorations and general merriment often induced by the consumption of alcohol the celebration came close to being banned several times during the 19th century but the formation of a social organization (krewe) by six men and the resulting Carnival Parade on the evening of Mardi Gras in 1857 rejuvenated and restructured the mayhem. Though the festivities were halted for the duration of the Civil War they resumed in full force upon its conclusion. New krewes have been formed continuously since the first parade and are added as space allows annually.
The parades in New Orleans now begin up to three weeks before Mardi Gras with the Carnival season officially starting on the January 6th the Feast of Epiphany. The French Quarter of the city is the heart of the celebration which concludes promptly at midnight on Mardi Gras with the police asking revelers to scatter and the massive clean up getting under way. The krewe system was originally a hierarchical method that showcased the elite of the Carnival and usually New Orleans society. However in the latter part of the 20th century the exclusivity of the krewes was tempered by the formation of new more democratic krewes for which no credentials were required.
After the founding of the Mystic Krewe of Comus in 1857 (and their nighttime torch-lit parade) the Krewe Of Rex established several key factors that would become staples for the entire Carnival tradition in 1872: the Mardi Gras flag the official colors of purple green and gold and the "royal anthem" of a song titled "If Ever I Cease To Love." In classic New Orleans style the song comes from a burlesque show entitled "Blue Beard" and features some of the craziest lyrics this side of a Christina Aguilera National Anthem performance: "If Ever I Cease To Love If Ever I Cease To Love/May cows lay eggs and fish grow legs If Ever I Cease To Love." Our very own Edward Branley recently told the fascinating story of how these insane lyrics have anything to do with Mardi Gras.