Every year during Mardi Gras, tourists flood the streets of New Orleans to let the good times roll. This year Mardi Gras is on Tuesday, February 16th, and we’d like to take this opportunity to share the history of this celebration, as well as some of the hazards surrounding it. Whether you’re a visitor or a resident of the Pelican State, we want you to stay safe while you indulge!
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How Did Mardi Gras Start?
The Mardi Gras “season” traditionally begins on January 6th, also known as Three Kings Day. It ends on Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday.
The origins of Mardi Gras may be linked to Saturnalia, which was the celebration of spring, fertility, and Saturn, the god of agriculture. It was a week-long festival originally observed in December, just before the harvest of the winter crops. Even schools and businesses were closed!
Once Christianity arrived, the solemn self-deprivation of Lent gave people the perfect excuse to get all their partying done the week beforehand. In fact, “Mardi Gras” is just French for “Fat Tuesday.” The day got its name due to the practice of indulging in an extravagant feast prior to fasting for Lent.
Mardi Gras Traditions
Because Lent required Christians to avoid all animal products, they had to use up all of their eggs, milk, cheese, butter, and fat the week prior. How did they do this? By making a feast of crepes, waffles, and pancakes, of course! This is why Mardi Gras is known as “Pancake Day” in England! Other countries including Germany, Italy, and Sweden also celebrate Mardi Gras.
The King Cake, or Rosca de Reyes, is a staple of this feast. It’s traditionally made of braided cinnamon dough and covered in purple, green, and gold sugar. During Saturnalia, beans were baked into cakes and whoever found the bean was named “king for a day.” In later years, a ring was placed inside the cake during royal banquets. Whoever found the ring in their slice of cake would be crowned the king or queen of the ball!
These days, a tiny plastic baby is hidden in the King Cake, with some saying it represents the baby Jesus. The tradition continues, as whoever gets the piece of cake with the baby in it is said to have good luck on the way!
So why do they throw beads at Mardi Gras? In the 1800s, aristocrats on floats threw flowers, almonds, medallions, and other trinkets into the crowd to show goodwill. This practice evolved into glass bead necklaces and, eventually, the iconic plastic beads you see today. Purple, green, and gold are the most common colors. These traditional Mardi Gras colors stand for justice, faith, and power, respectively. They were first popularized by the Rex Krewe, the city’s oldest social club, in 1892.
Mardi Gras Through the Years
Mardi Gras arrived stateside around 1699, when King Louis XIV sent the Le Moyne brothers to defend France’s “Louisiane” territory. At the time, the region included Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and a portion of Texas.
In 1703, French settlers in Mobile, Alabama organized the first official Mardi Gras celebration.
While some forms of lively Carnival celebrations had occurred in New Orleans since its founding in 1718, the first true New Orleans Mardi Gras parade took place in 1857. It was organized by a group of young men known as the Mistick Krewe of Comus, and its costumes, masks, and parade floats were so unrivaled, the city quickly became THE Mardi Gras destination!
Unfortunately, in our modern world, it’s also become the site of more and more deadly accidents.
Mardi Gras Car Accidents in New Orleans
The Louisiana Highway Safety Commission discovered the five-day Mardi Gras holiday is the most dangerous holiday for car accidents on Louisiana highways.
Over 100 accidents happen in the city of New Orleans on the Saturday before Mardi Gras, but according to accident report data from the New Orleans Police Department, the spike in car accidents begins in the two weeks leading up to Mardi Gras as the out-of-towners trickle in. (2017 was a record-breaking year for Louisiana tourism, all thanks to Mardi Gras.)
Due to their large size and unique blind spots, there’s also a history of New Orleans Mardi Gras float rider incidents and accidents. The packed streets are primed for pedestrian accidents, especially when alcohol is thrown into the mix and people are looking down at their phones for directions. Plus, in 2018, over 1,200 tons of trash were collected after the parade… and the majority of that trash was alcoholic beverage containers.
Mardi Gras Drunk Driving Accidents in New Orleans
Sadly, alcohol is involved in over 30% of all fatal car accidents. The New Orleans police department has its hands full right now, as public intoxication arrests and DWI charges spike during Mardi Gras.
Louisiana Mardi Gras DWI arrests peaked in 2009, reaching nearly 32,000 that season. However, in the years that followed, tragic accidents continued to happen:
- In 2016, a drunk driver killed a woman in a hit-and-run accident as she was crossing Canal Street during Mardi Gras. When the driver was found, his blood alcohol content was .172, more than twice the legal limit in Louisiana.
- In 2017, a drunk driver plowed through a Mardi Gras parade crowd and injured 28 people.
- In 2019, a drunk driver hit a group of cyclists on Esplanade Avenue after the Endymion parade. Two cyclists were killed.
To combat this, the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission extends grants to numerous local police departments to increase their presence during Mardi Gras season.
However, these tragedies aren’t just limited to Mardi Gras season. In New Orleans, drunk driving accidents ruin lives and families every day. Last year, more than 150 drivers in fatal Louisiana car crashes had blood alcohol content levels above the legal limit of .08%. Alcohol was also involved in 35% of all fatal Louisiana motorcycle accidents, 21% of all fatal Louisiana pedestrian accidents, and 25% of all fatal Louisiana bicycle accidents.
Underage drinking is also a pervasive problem, and the majority of fatal auto accidents in Louisiana involve drivers between the ages of 15 and 20.
If you and your crew are drinking this Mardi Gras season, always make the responsible choice by arranging an Uber or Lyft to get home. Trust us – you’d much rather deal with surge prices than surgery prices.
If you were hit by a drunk driver during Mardi Gras, you may be able to recover punitive damages in addition to getting compensation for your medical bills. You might not know what you’re entitled to, but it’s our job to find out! If you’ve been injured by a careless driver, no matter when or where, we want to help. Get connected to one of live experts now for a free confidential consultation from a New Orleans car accident lawyer!
Mardi Gras Safety Tips
Below are a few tips to help you stay safe as you enjoy the streets of New Orleans during Mardi Gras.
- Wear reflective clothing, light-up jewelry, or glow sticks for some extra vibrant visibility as you party on!
- Never lean over a railing or balcony, no matter how much you want to catch those beads.
- Never bring glass containers into the street. Not only is this illegal, it’s dangerous, too. Glass containers can shatter and cause serious personal injuries. Throughout Louisiana, all kinds of open containers of alcohol are illegal in vehicles.
- Be prepared for delays and traffic. Allow extra time to get to your destination so you’re not tempted to speed. Speeding is a cause of nearly one-third of all fatal car accidents, and Louisiana’s highways are no exception. Alternatively, take advantage of New Orleans public transportation.
- You’ve heard of driving defensively, but in situations like Mardi Gras, you should also walk defensively! Parade floats have blind spots aplenty, so give them a wide berth. Plus, there’s no guarantee a drunk driver will respect a pedestrian’s right-of-way in the packed streets of New Orleans. Always look both ways before crossing.
Get Help from A New Orleans Car Accident Lawyer
That’s all, folks! We hope you’ve learned something useful, and we hope you stay safe this Mardi Gras season. If your life is ever impacted by a New Orleans car accident, we’re here for you. Get a free case evaluation right now, no strings attached. Our experts are available 24/7, 365 days a year.
Since starting his firm in 1999, Stewart J. Guss has had the honor of representing clients from all over the world, helping them recover from even the most catastrophic injuries.
Today, thanks to a strong belief in those values of compassion, respect, and approachability, the firm has grown to employ over 120 legal professionals in numerous offices across 4 states, with nationwide reach.