The history of Mardi Gras originates in what is now Italy. Dating back thousands of years to pagan spring and fertility rites, the holiday grew into its present form in heavily Roman Catholic countries. Also known as Carnival in many parts of the world, the holiday takes place right before Lent and is all about celebrating before a season of fasting and penance.
In the United States, the holiday is centered in the city of New Orleans. Thousands of revelers pack the streets each year for a celebration that includes floats, masked balls, and general merriment. The holiday’s origins in the United States date back to even before American independence. As Mardi Gras has evolved throughout the years, many of its historical benchmarks have mirrored American society and geopolitical events, with the colors of Mardi Gras coming out of a visit from a Russian duke, for example, and the first African American king and queen of Mardi Gras crowned right before the civil rights movement.
Using primary and secondary historical sources, Stacker compiled key points in the history of Mardi Gras throughout the years. Click through for a closer look at where this holiday began and how it has evolved to keep up with the times.