The History of Mardi Gras Beads

April 29, 2009
Bright, colorful beads are a necessity during the New Orleans event of Mardi Gras. The tossing of the beads has become a strong tradition over the years, and part of the Mardi Gras charm that attracts millions of people every year.
Mardi Gras beads trace as far back as the 1840s. Colorful glass beads and almonds coated with sugar were tossed into the crowds as a type of modern version of a much older English Renaissance era custom. The original English custom was to hold a type of parade, where the upper class people of a local town would walk down the village streets, throwing these candies and glass beads to peasants. It was also a time of joy for all the community in these towns.
The New Orleans version of bead throwing began as a type of imitation of this original English Renaissance custom. Instead of aristocracy throwing beads and other bauble or candies, regular citizens would dress up as aristocrats as a way of mocking the original English tradition.
But originally, the New Orleans tradition was not to throw beads, but only string necklaces at the parades. But beginning between 1870 and 1880, parade participants dressed as Santa Claus began appearing and throwing the now familiar type of Mardi Gras beads. It was about this time that New Orleans was becoming a popular tourist destination within the United States, and the Mardi Gras celebration began to burgeon.
In these days, Mardi Gras beads are not actual colored glass, but usually made of cheap
plastic. But this has not diminished the symbolic meaning of the Mardi Gras bead necklaces, and they are more popular today than ever. True New Orleans citizens do not just attend these exciting carnivals for the plastic beads, but also for the joy of all people gathering for these festivities. The yearly celebration of the Mardi Gras parades has never gotten old or boring, rather more exciting each and every year with more tourists.

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