The History Of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras Balls

Mardi Gras balls in New Orleans have a rich and vibrant history that dates back to the early 19th century. These secretive masquerade events have become an integral part of the city’s carnival celebrations and are organized by various social clubs known as “krewes.” Let’s delve into the fascinating history of Mardi Gras balls in New Orleans.

1. Early Origins: The first recorded Mardi Gras ball in New Orleans took place in 1823 when the Mistick Krewe of Comus, one of the oldest and most influential krewes, organized a private event. Comus introduced the concept of themed parades and formal balls, which subsequently became the template for future Mardi Gras festivities.

2. Social Clubs and Krewes: Mardi Gras balls gradually gained popularity throughout the 19th century, with several new krewes being established. These krewes became elite social clubs, and membership was coveted among the city’s wealthy and influential citizens. Each krewe would plan and host its own ball, often featuring elaborate costumes, dances, and entertainment.

3. The Invitation-Only Tradition: Mardi Gras balls were originally invitation-only affairs, intended exclusively for krewe members, their guests, and prominent figures in New Orleans society. These events were closed to the general public, and attendees were required to wear formal attire and masks, which added an air of mystery and intrigue.

4. The Royal Court: The highlight of each Mardi Gras ball is the presentation of the royal court. Each krewe selects a king and queen for its ball, representing the monarchs of the event. These individuals are often prominent members of the community or celebrities chosen by the krewe members. The king and queen, along with their court, are presented during the ball and perform ceremonial rituals.

5. Ball Themes and Decorations: Mardi Gras balls are known for their extravagant themes and elaborate decorations. Each year, krewes meticulously design their balls around a specific theme, which influences the costumes, music, and overall ambiance. Themes can range from historical events to mythical tales or whimsical concepts, and the level of creativity is often awe-inspiring.

6. Evolution and Inclusivity: Over time, the exclusivity surrounding Mardi Gras balls began to change. In the mid-20th century, some krewes started allowing limited public access to their balls, while others formed new krewes that were more inclusive. This shift made the events more accessible to a wider audience, creating a more diverse and inclusive celebration.

7. Modern Mardi Gras Balls: Today, Mardi Gras balls continue to be highly anticipated and celebrated events in New Orleans. Many krewes still maintain the tradition of invitation-only balls, while others have opened their events to the public by selling tickets. The extravagance and elegance associated with these balls make them an integral part of the Mardi Gras experience.

Mardi Gras balls in New Orleans have evolved from exclusive and secretive events to becoming a showcase of the city’s rich history, culture, and joie de vivre. They continue to captivate both locals and tourists, serving as a reminder of the city’s deep-rooted traditions and celebratory spirit.

New Orleans has a deep and rich history! Check out our recommendations for the best history tours!