Mobile Carnival (Mobile Mardi Gras)

Mobile Carnival (Mobile Mardi Gras)
While Americans do not observe Mardi Gras nationally across the country, a number of cities have notable Carnival celebrations due to being historically French. The oldest Carnival celebration in the United States takes place in Mobile, Alabama, which used to be the capital of French Louisiana. The Mobile Carnival was founded in the early 18th century.

French king Louis XIV claimed the territory of Louisiana, which included what is now Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, in 1682. About a decade and a half later, he sent an expedition led by the Le Moyne brothers, Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, to defend the claim.

The brothers constructed Fort Louis de La Louisiana and founded the settlement of La Mobile in 1702 (present-day Mobile is located several miles downriver, at the confluence of the Mobile River and Mobile Bay). The first ever Mardi Gras celebration in Mobile was held in 1703, when the town was the capital of French Louisiana. Although today Mardi Gras in New Orleans is much more widely known both in the United States and abroad, it is the Mobile Mardi Gras that is the oldest Carnival celebration in the country.

What started as a Catholic tradition has evolved into a multicultural celebration for everyone regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof. The Mardi Gras season in Mobile starts in early November, when the city’s mystic societies (which were the inspiration for the New Orleans krewes, by the way) hold exclusive parties, followed by New Year’s Eve balls. Mobile has several dozen active mystic societies; some begin their events in November, while others wait until Twelfth Night (Epiphany Eve, January 6).

The bulk of festive events, large and small, are held throughout Mobile starting two Fridays before Fat Tuesday. The first parade of the Carnival season is usually the Conde Cavaliers parade, named after the mystic society that organizes it, which, in turn, is named after Louis Henri, Duke of Bourbon and Prince of Condé, chief minister to Louis XV. After that, there is usually at least one parade every night, sometimes more.

Each parade features elaborate floats, and members of mystic societies standing on floats toss gifts to spectators. Known as throws, these gifts include small toys, stuffed animals, wrapped snacks and small cakes (Moon Pies are especially popular), candy, doubloon coins, plastic beads, etc. A number of objects are prohibited as throws for safety reasons or due to their sexual nature (i.e. dolls with explicit genitals) – Carnival parades are supposed to be family-friendly, after all.

The Sunday before Mardi Gras is known as Joe Cain Day. Cain helped found the Tea Drinker’s Society, one of Mobile’s mystic societies, and is remembered for parading through the city streets in a Carnival costume while Mobile was under Union occupation during the Civil War and helping revive Mardi Gras once the war was over. The main event of Joe Cain Day is the Joe Cain Procession, nicknamed the “People’s Parade”. It is not run by a specific society, and everyone is welcome to join as log as they sign up in advance.

The following Monday is known as Lundi Gras (Fat Monday). Schools are closed, and children spend the day with their families enjoying eating greasy foods. There are several family-oriented events hosted by various societies and the Floral Parade organized by the Mobile Carnival Association in collaboration with local schools.

Celebrations reach their peak on Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras). The mystic societies that traditionally hold their parades on this day are the Order of Athena, the Comic Cowboys, and the Order of Myths. The Order of Myths parade is a spectacular nighttime event with illuminated floats decorated to a single theme. All Mardi Gras festivities cease at the stroke of midnight on Fat Tuesday.

Mobile Carnival





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