How did the New Orleans Mardi Gras originate?

Mardi Gras, pronounced mar-dee grah, literally means “fat Tuesday.” It is the French name of Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Shrove is the past tense of shrive (“confess”), and Shrove Tuesday is the day on which confession or shrift was made preparatory to the forty fast days of Lent. French Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday alludes to an old ceremony in which a fat ox, symbolizing the passing of meat, was paraded through the streets of Paris and other French cities on Shrove Tuesday. Lent being a period of fasting, Mardi Gras naturally became a day of carnival, a term derived through Italian, from Latin carnem levare (to put away flesh,” as food.) In Italy and other Roman Catholic countries the day before Lent was devoted to revelry, merrymaking, feasting and riotous amusement. The day was formerly observed in England by eating pancakes and it is still often referred to as Pancake Tuesday, although eating pancakes on this day survives only as a social custom. In Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well the clown Lavache, when asked by the Countess of Rousillon whether his answer would “serve fit to all questions,” replied: “As fit as a pancake for Shrove Tuesday.” Pancakes seem to have become particularly associated with Shrove Tuesday because the people desired to use up what grease, lard and similar forbidden goods they had on hand before Lent. Carnivals, pageants and parades still characterize Mardi Gras in many Catholic cities in Europe. French colonists introduced Mardi Gras festivities into the United States. New Orleans, Mobile and Galveston still observe Mardi Gras with elaborate ceremonies and it is a legal holiday in Louisiana, Alabama and Florida. Mardi Gras celebrations took place between 1702 and 1710 among the French soldiers stationed at Fort Louis de la Louisiana on the original site of Mobile, Alabama. A society to promote yearly Mardi Gras balls and street parades was formed in Mobile in 1830. Although Mardi Gras recently returned from Paris, and these pageants were revived in 1837 and 1839, it was not until twenty years later that the distinctive ceremonies now associated with Mardi Gras in that city were introduced by a group of former Mobile residents. On Mardi Gras, New Orleans is ostensibly placed under the rule of a king of-the carnival-and civic organizations sponsor the celebration, which consists of a daytime street parade with fantastic floats “and of an evening masquerade ball, accompanied by pageantry, frolicking and merrymaking.