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Why do we celebrate Mardi Gras in the US?

The celebration has its roots in medieval Europe.

HOUSTON — The origin of Mardi Gras goes all the way back to medieval Europe, where communities in Italy and France counted down the final days before lent by living it up.

According to historians, a large steer or ox was paraded through the streets then slaughtered and eaten. This was the last meat people could eat before the restrictions of lent started. On Fat Tuesday in 1699, a French Canadian explorer landed 60 miles downriver from what would become New Orleans and promptly named the spot Point du Mardi Gras. A small party was held but that is not considered the first Mardi Gras celebration in the New World.

That title goes to Mobile, Alabama. Though there is some debate, historians say as early as 1703, French settlers in Mobile started holding Mardi Gras celebrations, beating the big easy by about 10 years. By the 1730s, Mardi Gras parties were a common sight in New Orleans. The Spanish, who ruled the city until 1800, were not big fans of the parties. When U.S. authorities took over, they weren’t in the mood to let the good times roll either, banning both masked balls and public disguises.

By the 1850s, a group of men in New Orleans established a secret society to help celebrate the holiday, and the city’s first Mardi Gras Krewe was born. Other secret societies followed and there are even new krewes emerging today. The Krewe of Chewbacchus celebrates not only the genius of “Star Wars” but also the Roman god of wine.

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