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More of a visual learner? Read the transcript of this week's Galveston Unscripted podcast episode below:
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Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday or Carnival, is a vibrant and thrilling festival celebrated from Europe to South America to Mobile, New Orleans, and a little island off the coast of Texas. Galveston Island is home to the 3rd largest Mardi Gras Celebration in the United States. Like many celebratory traditions in Galveston, Mardi Gras is not only a holiday or just an excuse to let your inhibitions run wild, but it is a time of year that brings Galvestonians and visitors together from around the country.
Mardi Gras is a fun and exciting holiday celebrated by many countries around the world. It dates back thousands of years to pagan spring and fertility rites and is traditionally celebrated on "Fat Tuesday," the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. The most famous public festivities occur in Brazil, Venice, and New Orleans. During Mardi Gras, people celebrate by wearing costumes, throwing beads and trinkets, decorating floats, and eating King Cake. The first Mardi Gras in the United States was celebrated in Mobile and Mardi Gras. Celebrations in the United States are most famous in New Orleans. However, it is safe to say that Mardi Gras made it to Galveston Island as quickly.
Founder of the City of Galveston, Michele Menard, is noted to have kicked off the Mardi Gras Celebrations at his home in 1853 with a Mardi Gras ball, which quickly caught on throughout Galveston's early high society. By 1867, when the first official celebration included a masked ball and costumed theatrical performance. It wasn't until 1871 that the event was celebrated on a grand scale with the emergence of two rival Mardi Gras societies, or "Krewes," called the Knights of Momus and the Knights of Myth. Parades, masked balls, costumes, and exuberant invitations became the norm. By 1880, the massive parades became costly and slowed, but the balls continued until 1910 when the "Kotton Karnival Kids revived the carnival parades." The Mardi Gras Celebrations of the early 20th century were a draw to Galveston Island and a significant boost to the local economy.
The celebrations continued through WWI, The Great Depression until WWII began. In 1941, shortages of men and materials and a total commitment to the war effort caused the halt of Mardi Gras on the Island. It wasn't until 1985 when a local entrepreneur, George P. Mitchell, and his wife, Cynthia, launched the revival of a citywide Mardi Gras to revive the city's tradition. The Mitchells, who had long dreamed of reinvigorating the Island's celebration, initiated a grand opening of the Galveston Mardi Gras celebration that was a spectacle to behold. A mile-long Grand Night Parade featuring nine dazzling floats designed by renowned New Orleans float-builder Blaine Kern and hundreds of musicians in marching bands were led through the streets of the Strand to the delight of 75,000 cheering spectators.
Much like today, the parades and the week-long Mardi Gras celebration include a gala ball and musical performances. Mardi Gras! Drawing over a quarter million celebratory visitors to the Island every year, providing a significant boost to the economy, and keeping the tradition of Fat Tuesday alive and well along the Texas Gulf Coast!