On February 26th, 1827, a group of masked students took to the streets of New Orleans, Louisiana to start a celebration like no other—Mardi Gras.
Similar to Carnival, a Christian European festival lasting from January 6th to Ash Wednesday each year, Mardi Gras takes place on a Tuesday—called Fat Tuesday. Technically, the celebration was introduced by early French settlers at the end of the 17th century, although Spanish governors eventually banned the party. After Louisiana joined the United States in 1803, locals convinced the city council to lift the anti-carnival ban.
The celebrations would begin immediately, and over time they would become more formal in nature. By 1833, a rich plantation owner named Bernard Xavier de Marigny de Mandevile raised the necessary dollars to fund the first official Mardi Gras celebration.
Now the celebration has been expanded to cities across America and Latin America. Some of the biggest parties take place in Rio de Janeiro, Cayman Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, Quebec City, and Mazatlan.
In Puerto Rico, the festivities are called Carnaval de Ponce. They last one week and end on the day before Ash Wednesday. "Vejigantes" are the colorful costumes everyone wears during this period, traditionally representing the devil, or evil in general. The municipal government of Puerto Rico invests nearly $100,000 in the event which is responsible for a $500,000 injection into the city's economy.
Within the United States this is still celebrated within traditionally French cities, mostly bordering the Gulf of Mexico. These include Natchez, Mississippi; Pensacola, Florida; Galveston, Texas and Lafayette, Louisiana.
Mardi Gras has always been best associated with New Orleans, with nearly half a million visitors flocking to the city each year to watch the parade and toss funny colored beads around.
In February 2006, the event was held despite the fact that New Orleans had just been devastated by an August 2005 hurricane (Katrina). A sign that New Orleans natives are a resilient bunch, plus the fact that the party don't stop.
Three years later, the Saints did something extremely unexpected. They won a Super Bowl over Peyton Manning's dominant Indianapolis Colts. The victory couldn't have come at a more important time for New Orleans, as residents were looking for any glimmer of hope following Katrina. There it was in the form of football glory. For long time fans of the team, this was especially huge following decades of mediocrity and downright futility. Needless to say, Mardi Gras was even bigger that year.