From parades and amazing food, to festive masks and bead tossing, Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is full of traditions. The colorful beads are an iconic part of Mardi Gras celebrations. Each year, crowds of people line up to catch beads tossed from floats during Mardi Gras parades. The bead colors typically represent Mardi Gras colors such as gold, purple, and green. Learn more about this timeless tradition that remains an exciting part of Mardi Gras celebrations today.
Historians believe the tradition of tossing beads dates back to the English Renaissance era, but was introduced in New Orleans when a carnival king threw fake gems and jewelry to his “loyal subjects”. In the late 1800’s, krewes, or party organizers, set the scene with an organized parade of debauchery where they passed out baubles and other shiny objects for revelers to rejoice in. Others threw chocolate-covered almonds, and troublemakers threw dirt in an effort to cause commotion. It has even been said that some women exposed their breasts to invite bead throws in the French Quarter.
Archeologist Laurie Wilkie calls this popular tradition “bead lust” as it triggers excitement amongst people ready to receive their gift of cheap plastic. Next time you’re in a parade where beads are being thrown, try shouting, “Throw me something, mister!” This phrase was traditionally shouted when parade marchers wanted to join in on the fun and have a bead necklace of their own.
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