The 11 Top Symbols of Mardi Gras:  What You Need to Know and Their Meaning

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The 11 Top Symbols of Mardi Gras:  What You Need to Know and Their Meaning

Let’s explore the captivating symbols of Mardi Gras! Since you’re here, I imagine you appreciate American traditions like I do. So, let’s delve into the top 11 symbols of this festive celebration. From colorful masks to lively parades, Mardi Gras season is a cultural event filled with symbols that all have their own meanings.

Can you believe that I’ve never been to a Mardi Gras celebration!? That’s all about to change because I am setting out for a trip to Mardi Gras central, the city of New Orleans, and at least two of the surrounding Parishes (or counties), Jefferson Parish and River Parishes, in about a week. While there, I’m going to get a first-hand look at all the festivity and fun of the season. So, before I go, I researched the symbolism involved in Mardi Gras to be ready to enjoy the fun and understand it. So, grab a cup of your favorite tea or glass of wine, settle into your favorite chair, and let’s discover the fascinating symbols of Mardi Gras together!

A Little Background

What is Mardi Gras?

Mardi Gras, frequently linked to French and Spanish colonial influences, also includes contributions from Native Americans. It is a community-wide celebration that marks the start of the Carnival season.

The timing of Mardi Gras is closely connected to the religious practice of Lent—a Christian period that includes days of fasting, repentance, and reflection. The start of Lent is marked by Ash Wednesday, following the vibrant festivities of Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday. During Mardi Gras, individuals revel in rich foods and lively celebrations, leading into the more reflective Lenten season.

Mardi Gras is particularly renowned for its exuberant festivities in New Orleans, Louisiana, and is known for its colorful parades, elaborate costumes, lively music, and an abundance of indulgent foods. The celebration is deeply embedded in the city’s history and cultural fabric, with roots tracing back to French and Spanish colonial influences.

New Orleans (also known as the Big Easy) has become the epicenter of Mardi Gras, attracting millions of revelers each year who visit solely to experience the unique blend of tradition, community, and joy that defines the season. Soon, I’ll be just one of those millions!

What is a Mardi Gras Krewe?

Mardi Gras Krewes are social organizations or groups that put on parades, balls, and other events during the Carnival season leading up to Mardi Gras. Krewes are a significant part of Mardi Gras celebrations, organizing and participating in various festivities, including elaborate parades featuring floats, costumes, and throws (items tossed to spectators). Each Krewe often has its own theme, Mardi Gras traditions, and signature throws, such as plastic cups, doubloons (metal coins), small toys, and trinkets.

Symbols of Mardi Gras

The Fleur-De-Lis

A Fleur de lis in purple, green, and gold on a busy background.
AI image from Dall-E

One of the most famous symbols of Mardi Gras (and New Orleans) is the fleur de lis. You may recognize it as the symbol of the Saints, New Orleans NFL football team. Fleur de lis is a French word meaning “lily flower” and has a fascinating religious and cultural history. It symbolizes the Virgin Mary and is said to represent the holy trinity and saints. Deeply rooted in French history, the fleur de lis became a prominent emblem during the French monarchy and later adorned the flags of Louisiana cities, including New Orleans.

In 2008, the fleur de lis was officially designated as the symbol of Louisiana, finding its place on flags, including those of New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Lafayette. During Mardi Gras, this elegant symbol takes center stage, where you’ll find it blazoned across parade throws, beaded necklaces, and various souvenirs. As a representation of royalty, Krewes in Mardi Gras embrace the fleur de lis, crowning their kings and queens and incorporating the symbol into the vibrant decor of their masquerade balls and parade floats.

The Mardi Gras Mask

Six Mardi Gras masks in shades of purple, gold, and green.
AI image from Dall-E

In the lively streets of New Orleans during Mardi Gras, it’s common to see people in vibrant Mardi Gras masks. This tradition, dating back to the earliest Mardi Gras celebrations, had a practical purpose – concealing identities. Masks allowed individuals from different social classes to mingle freely, fostering an atmosphere of equality and connection.

While a modern-day Mardi Gras mask may not serve the same purpose, anonymity still adds a touch of freedom and mystery to the festive occasion. Today, the tradition lives on as parade float riders in New Orleans are still required to don Mardi Gras masks, a nod to the rich history of the tradition.

multi-colored background with the words "let's be friends" printed on top with "click here to join the facebook group"

King Cake

An AI Image of a King cake iced in purple, green and gold and a tiny baby doll in the center.
AI image from Dall-E

Indulging in the delectable king cake is among the most delicious Mardi Gras traditions. The King Cake’s symbolism is rooted in Christian traditions. It is associated with the Feast of Epiphany, also known as Twelfth Night or Three Kings’ Day, which commemorates the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus.

The circular cakes, adorned with purple, gold, and green sprinkles, are baked with a hidden surprise inside – a baby figurine symbolizing the baby Jesus. Whoever discovers the baby in their slice is crowned queen or king of the carnival for the night, bringing forth good luck and the honor of hosting next year’s Mardi Gras celebration.

Mardi Gras Beads

A gray-haired woman wearing a pink blouse and lots of Mardi Gras beads
AI image from Dall-E

Mardi Gras beads are one of the most recognized and common parade throws, dating back to 1921 when the New Orleans Krewe of Rex Organization introduced them. Initially crafted from glass and hand-knotted, today’s beads are made mostly of plastic, making them more accessible to parade watchers. While glass beads remain a rare delight, the plastic counterparts, though less exquisite, ensure a plentiful supply for the crowd, allowing everyone to partake in this iconic Mardi Gras tradition. Krewes often personalize beads in their distinct colors, adding a touch of individuality to these cherished symbols of the festive season. Look for beads as a signature throw from many of the floats in any Mardi Gras parade.

Crowns and Tiaras

a gold crown on a neutral background

All around the festivities related to Mardi Gras, you’ll see crowns and tiaras take center stage. Krewes select an annual queen and king of carnival through a combination of traditions, rituals, and internal processes, with each Krewe adding its own unique touch to the process. 

These royally adorned figures wear elaborate crowns and tiaras, adding a regal touch to the celebrations. Additionally, revelers and attendees (and you) may wear crowns and tiaras as part of their Mardi Gras attire, contributing to the overall joy and celebration. So, pack your crown or tiara next time you head for a Mardi Gras party!

Musical Notes

Dancing musical notes that are wearing Mardi Gras masks and feathers. The background is in shades of purple, green, and gold.
AI image from Dall-E

Look around at the musical notes in the historic French Quarter, and you’ll know that music is an integral part of the Mardi Gras celebration, and for good reason. New Orleans is known as the birthplace of Jazz. Beyond mere embellishments, these musical symbols pay homage to the city’s rich musical heritage. You can’t miss the jazzy tunes you’ll hear running throughout the city at Mardi Gras, and the presence of music notes everywhere is a delightful reminder of the city’s vibrant musical traditions.

I can’t wait to join in the rhythm. I’m sure even my two left feet will find a welcome place in the celebration!

Feathers and Boas

A pink-haired woman wearing a pink blazer and many feathers, both on her head and as boas around the neck
AI image from Dall-E

As you enjoy Mardi Gras in New Orleans, you’ll see many folks rocking feathers and boas. I’ll likely be one of them! These fun accessories are all about embracing the lively and extravagant vibe of the celebration!

Feathers in vibrant colors bring a playful and extravagant vibe to costumes, capturing the carefree spirit of Mardi Gras. Boas, with their luxurious plumes, add to the lively energy of the streets. When you see these feathery delights, remember they’re not just accessories but a colorful expression of the joy and festivity of Mardi Gras. Join in, embrace the feathered flair, and let them lift your spirits during this lively celebration!

The Colors Green, Purple, and Gold

A purple, gold, and green flag with a Fleur de Lis in the center hangs from the side of a building and waves in the wind.
AI image from Dall-E

The traditional colors of Mardi Gras are green, purple, and gold. But why? The symbolism of colors is felt deeply through the Mardi Gras celebration. The color green symbolizes faith, the color purple means justice, and gold signifies power. The Rex Krewe assigned these vibrant hues during a parade in 1872, and they continue to be significant symbols that add rich meaning to the festive celebrations of Mardi Gras. Be ready to see the official Mardi Gras colors everywhere when you visit during the season!

Mardi Gras Parade Floats

a Mardi Gras float with palm trees on top and many hands reaching for items being thrown in the foreground.
AI image from Dall-E

Elaborately decorated Mardi Gras parades are a hallmark of the celebration and are decorated in themes with elaborate decorations. Picture this: the lively streets of New Orleans filled with the rhythmic beats of music, vibrant floats adorned with dazzling decorations, and a sense of anticipation in the air – it’s the magic of Mardi Gras parades. These parades are the heart and soul of the celebration!

The intricately designed and themed floats roll through the streets, each telling a unique story and captivating the crowds. Riders on the parade throw out beads and other trinkets to those watching! These parades and floats are a time-honored tradition that transforms the city into a vibrant tapestry of celebration. So, as you revel in the excitement of Mardi Gras parades, let the lively floats and festive processions sweep you away. Laugh, dance, catch some throws, and become a part of the spirited spectacle that makes Mardi Gras unforgettable.

Jester Hats

A jester hat in shades of green, purple, and gold with a blurry background.
AI image from Dall-E

Ah, the whimsical jester hats that add a touch of playful charm to the Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans! These hats, adorned with colorful bells and festive Mardi Gras designs, pay homage to the jesters of medieval times who entertained royal courts with their jests and antics.

During Mardi Gras, the jester hats symbolize revelry and lightheartedness. Wearing a jester hat is not just a fashion choice; it’s a nod to the tradition of merriment and the lively, carefree atmosphere that defines Mardi Gras. So, if you spot someone sporting a jester hat, you know they’re ready to dance, laugh, and fully immerse themselves in the festive revelry of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras!

Moon Pies

A closeup of a Moon Pie, chocolate cookies with cream center on a plate with a paper lace doily under.

Now, let’s talk about the sweet and delightful tradition of Moon Pies during Mardi Gras in New Orleans! These delectable treats, often tossed from parade floats, add a touch of nostalgia to the festivities.

Moon Pies have become a beloved symbol of Mardi Gras generosity with their marshmallow filling sandwiched between two cookies. Catching a Moon Pie during a parade is like capturing a bit of sugary magic, and indulging in one is a delightful reminder of the joyous, carefree spirit that permeates the Mardi Gras celebrations. So, if someone tosses a Moon Pie your way, consider it a sweet token of the festive camaraderie that defines Mardi Gras!

Need A Place to Stay?

If you are in the New Orleans area and looking for a place to stay, check out the map below for accommodation options.

Wrapping It All Up

I hope you’ve enjoyed diving into the vibrant world of Mardi Gras symbols. Researching this article gave me a whole new view of the Mardi Gras celebration, where it came from, and how it is celebrated.

I hope when you see these symbols during the season of Mardi Gras, you’ll embrace the lively spirit and let the symbolism carry you into the rich musical heritage, playful spirit, and deep traditions that define our country’s Mardi Gras celebrations, not only in Louisiana but from sea to shining sea.

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