New Orleans and Mardi Gras go hand in hand, but the roots of our infamous celebration go all the way back to Medieval Europe. Long before New Orleans was a city, Europeans celebrated Carnival. So how did this celebration become so synonymous with NOLA? Well, it all starts with our French connections.
Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday” in French, is the celebration that takes place the day before Ash Wednesday. In France, people would indulge in rich, fatty foods before the start of Lent. And from those humble origins, the beginnings of Carnival, as we know it, was born.
As the French colonized North America, they brought their joie de vivre with them, and Mardi Gras in New Orleans became a focal point for that spirit. Street parties, masked balls, fancy dinners, even the name of the very first place in what would become Louisiana, Pointe du Mardi-Gras, reflected this affinity for celebration. In the years following, they would also bring Sazerac Cognac, which would eventually be used for the Sazerac Cocktail, a drink that’s since become synonymous with the celebratory nature of New Orleans.
But even as New Orleans began to put its own spin on the holiday, we still took cues from France, with elaborate galas modeled after those held in Versailles and the Opera de Paris. Where society’s strict expectations were left at the door, as attendees donned festive masks and danced the night away.
All good things must come to an end, and for this first iteration of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, that took the form of the Spanish takeover of the city in the 18th century. Spanish Governors outlawed the celebrations, but the spirit of Carnival never truly died.
In 1827, after visiting Paris, a group of students brought the celebration back to the streets of New Orleans, and ten years later, the first recorded Mardi Gras parade took place. And the rest, as they say, is history.
New Orleans may not have been the first city to celebrate Mardi Gras, but it’s certainly the one that does it with the most panache. And Sazerac is a proud part of it all. With 400 years of French heritage and counting, we invite you to join us as we raise a glass to Mardi Gras.