Missing Mardi Gras? Brush Up on the History of the Holiday with these Titles

With the COVID-19 vaccine rolling out slowly and the pandemic raging on, Mardi Gras celebrations across Louisiana have been called off. We might not be able to revel in the usual manner, but Mardi Gras festivities are more than just parades, and Louisianians will find other, pandemic-safe ways to commemorate the holiday—such as eating king cake or creating “Yardi Gras” on their lawns. The cancellation of parades and parties also provides a special opportunity to brush up on the rich history and traditions of Mardi Gras, which vary widely between different groups of people and parts of the state. Knowing the significance behind these traditions is an important part of keeping them alive, and reading about the holiday is one way to experience it safely. Check out the titles below to learn a little about Mardi Gras and to get ideas for further reading.


"Capitaine, voyage ton flag": The Traditional Cajun Country Mardi Gras

by Barry Jean Ancelet and James Edmunds

This short title gives readers a glimpse into the history and customs of the Cajun Mardi Gras. While many are familiar with the revelry in New Orleans, the Cajun country celebrations are not as quickly recognized. During these festivities, organized groups led by a life-appointed capitaine go door-to-door on horseback, begging residents for ingredients for a communal gumbo. The most sought-after prize is a live chicken to be chased and caught by the riders. These celebrations, known as Courir de Mardi Gras, were almost lost until the 1950s, when an older member of the community was sought out for guidance on restoring them.

Barry Jean Ancelet discusses the details of these celebrations and offers insights into their development, looking all the way back to the ancient pagan rituals behind the customs. The book also contains a photo essay with images of past festivities, allowing us a look at the roots of the holiday and serving as a reminder of the importance of maintaining this heritage.



From the Kingdom of Kongo to Congo Square: Kongo Dances and the Origins of the Mardi Gras Indians

by Jeroen Dewulf

Larry Bannock, Chief of the Golden Star Hunters, on Mardi Gras. Photograph by Michael P. Smith (1983). Courtesy of the Historic New Orleans Collection.

The Mardi Gras Indians, with their complex rules and conventions, have long been a noteworthy part of the New Orleans ritual, but stories of their origins have been murky. Their history has largely been passed down orally by members of the groups. According to these stories, the tradition emerged from a friendship between Indigenous American groups and enslaved Africans.

In this work, scholar Jeroen Dewulf traces the dance and feathered headdress of the Mardi Gras Indians back to the sangamento war dance of the former Kingdom of Kongo. He links New Orleans’s Congo Square dances back to the Kingdom of Kongo and then shows the relationship between the Kongolese culture and Mardi Gras Indian customs. He draws connections to similar customs across the Caribbean and South American countries, demonstrating the depth, richness, and diversity of these Mardi Gras rituals.


Mardi Gras, Gumbo, and Zydeco: Readings in Louisiana Culture*

edited by Marcia Gaudet and James McDonald

This collection of essays covers a broad range of issues in Louisiana culture and practices, including five essays on Mardi Gras. From an essay on the conflicting role of Mardi Gras as both a symbol of aristocratic divide and a method of bringing people together, to an essay on the tradition with ancient roots of men “hunting” younger teens in the country around Thibodaux, gently whipping them and urging them to repent for their sins—these thought-provoking essays cover the good, the bad, and the bizarre. They show the diversity of Mardi Gras celebrations across the state, covering the many regions and cultures that make Louisiana unique.

*Mardi Gras, Gumbo, and Zydeco is published by University Press of Mississippi—get it on Amazon

The Mermaids of New Orleans

By Sally Asher; Illustrations by Melissa Vandiver


This colorful romp through the city takes place deep in the Mississippi where the mermaids of New Orleans eat roe balls and host parades with floats pulled by alligators. The mermaids each have different jobs and talents, but they all have one thing in common—they spend Mardi Gras day on land! This vivid tale brings the spirit of New Orleans to life on the page and is an exciting way for children to experience Mardi Gras while they are unable to dance to the marching bands or catch beads in person.

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