With Fat Tuesday quickly approaching, it’s time to learn about the colors of Mardi Gras! Each of the three colors has their own meaning and fascinating history.
If you have ever visited New Orleans for Mardi Gras, or celebrated the holiday in general, you might have noticed the colors purple, green and gold are everywhere! These colors are one of the symbols of Mardi Gras.
Since 1872, purple, green and gold have been the official Mardi Gras colors. Keep reading to learn who assigned them their meaning and why these colors are associated with the holiday.
Mardi Gras is not the only holiday represented by colors. In fact, each holiday has colors associated with it that have their own meanings. If this interests you make sure to check out the colors of Valentine’s Day!
What are Mardi Gras krewes?
To learn about the colors of Mardi Gras, their history, and meanings, we first need to learn about the krewes (pronounced: crews) of New Orleans. They are the people that assigned Mardi Gras its colors!
Krewes are social organizations that were established starting in the mid 1800s. To this day, they are responsible for the floats and parades of Mardi Gras.
One of the earliest formed krewes, referred to as the Rex Organization, was established in 1872. It was tasked with throwing a celebration for a visiting Russian grand duke.
Prior to Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich of Russia’s arrival, the Rex krewe chose purple, gold and green to be the official Mardi Gras colors.
Each year, the Rex Organization chooses a new monarch of their krewe, known as “The King of Carnival”.
In 1872, The King of Carnival included an advertisement in the local newspaper, asking people to drape their balconies in purple, green and gold for the celebrations.
Rex krewe of Mardi Gras
There is some confusion as to why exactly the krewe of Rex chose green, purple and gold as the colors of Mardi Gras. Some say the Mardi Gras colors were inspired from the colors of the house of the grand duke.
Errol Laborde, editor of the New Orleans Magazine, wrote a different explanation in his book called Marched the Day God: A History of the Rex Organization (affiliate link).
He explained that the Rex organization may have chosen the colors for two reasons: in order to create a tricolored flag, and in order to follow the rules of heraldry.
In heraldry, a coat of arms needs both metals (eg. silver and gold) and colors.
Choosing purple, gold and green as Mardi Gras colors would ensure that the Rex organization, and Mardi Gras, were represented by both metals (gold) and colors (purple and green).
While flags can have various numbers of colors, more flags have three colors than any other number.
In addition to choosing three colors, the Rex organization chose colors that were not commonly used in other flags, to make theirs stand out.
Choosing purple, green and gold as the colors of Mardi Gras would mean their flag would contain three colors that were unlikely to be seen in other flags, making it more recognizable.
The colors of Mardi Gras meaning
While the Mardi Gras colors were chosen in 1872, it wasn’t until 1892 that they were each assigned their meanings.
Every year, each Mardi Gras krewe has their own unique parade theme. In 1892 the Rex krewe’s Mardi Gras parade theme was “The Symbolism of Colors”.
It was during this year that each of the colors of Mardi Gras were assigned their own meanings. In reference to Mardi Gras, purple represents justice, green represents faith, and gold represents power.
Each of these colors also has their own general meaning, which subliminally plays into the meaning of the colors of Mardi Gras.
The meaning of the color purple
The Rex Organization declared that, for Mardi Gras specifically, the meaning of the color purple is justice.
However, the color purple has other meanings that apply to Mardi Gras. It also represents royalty, religion, spirituality and mystery.
Purple color meaning and royalty
Purple is often associated with wealth and royalty, which ties to Mardi Gras in two ways.
As the Rex Organization chose the Mardi Gras colors before the parade was visited by Russian royalty, it makes sense that a royal color was selected to honor this guest.
The name Rex literally translates from latin to mean “king”. As this krewe has their own King of Carnival, it is only fitting that they chose a kingly purple to symbolize Mardi Gras.
The King of Carnival is simply called “Rex”. Sometimes people mistakenly call him the King Rex, but as both words mean the same thing, that is redundant.
Religious Mardi Gras history
Purple is a color associated spirituality and religion. Purple is also the color of Lent, the Christian holiday that begins the day after Mardi Gras.
Lent starts on Ash Wednesday and lasts for 40 days. It represent the sacrifice that Jesus made when he fasted for 40 days and 40 nights in the desert and resisted the temptation of Satan.
Christians observe Lent by fasting and giving up luxuries, to honor Jesus’s sacrifice.
Mardi Gras was used as the last day of partying and feasting before entering the pennant season of Lent. It’s no surprise that purple is used to represent both of these holidays with religious ties.
Mardi Gras masks meaning
Purple also represents mystery. Mardi Gras has a large component of mystery because of its use of masks. Both historically and in modern times, Mardi Gras attendees wear masks.
Historically, masks were worn because it allowed people of all class levels to interact, regardless of societal position.
In modern times, people wear masks to Mardi Gras celebrations in order to keep that tradition alive. In fact, parade float riders in New Orleans are legally required to wear masks while on their floats to preserve this tradition.
Meaning of the color gold
The meaning of the color gold, in reference to Mardi Gras is power. Just like the color purple, the color gold also has other meanings that are applicable to Mardi Gras.
Gold color meaning: abundance and indulgence
Gold is a symbol of money, luxury, riches, prosperity and wealth. Since gold represents money, it also symbolizes abundance and indulgence – two things which often go hand in hand with riches.
If we look at the religious meaning of Mardi Gras, this day is centered around indulgence; it’s the last hurrah before Lent. Mardi Gras is a time to feast, and freely celebrate before having to abstain from luxuries during Lent.
As gold symbolizes indulgence and abundance, it makes sense that the color would be tied to this holiday.
The power of gold
Since gold represents wealth, it indicates the exclusivity of this color. Gold is a symbol of status, prestige, power and success.
Wealth and power often go hand in hand. Rulers throughout time have amassed great fortunes and used those fortunes, in turn, to increase their power. For this reason, it is logical that the Rex krewe decided gold would be symbolic of power.
Gold is also thought to be a winner’s color, one of triumph and victory (eg. gold medals commemorate first place). Victory, power, and money all impact the color gold’s meaning.
Green color meaning
In reference to Mardi Gras, the color green means faith. As mentioned earlier, Mardi Gras started out as a religious holiday. Attributing faith as the meaning of the color green touches on this religious background.
The resurrection color
While green means faith in general during Mardi Gras, green is the color of resurrection and rebirth. In Christianity, Easter, which falls at the end of lent, celebrates Jesus Christ’s resurrection.
As Mardi Gras directly precedes Easter and Lent, it makes sense that this color of resurrection would be a used to represent Mardi Gras.
Facts about Mardi Gras colors & LSU
While the colors of Mardi Gras are commonly found around the holiday, in Louisiana you can find purple and gold year round in one of its most notable universities!
Though there is some discrepancy about exactly how the school’s colors came to be, one of the most widely accepted stories says that Mardi Gras inspired the school colors of Louisiana State University (LSU).
When Dr. Charles E. Coates began teaching at LSU, he noticed there wasn’t much of an athletic program. He created the football team at LSU, but noticed their uniforms were plain grey.
In 1893, knowing the team would need colors other than grey for their upcoming football game against Tulane, Coates went out to the shops with several other coaches and players.
They stopped at Reymond’s Store on Third and Main to buy colored ribbons to make rosettes and badges for the team.
When they arrived at the store to buy ribbon, no one knew the colors of LSU (which were at the time blue and white).
The shopkeeper told them that they normally had plenty of purple, green, and gold ribbon since it was Mardi Gras season. However he said their green shipment was running late, so they only had purple and gold in stock.
Coates bought all the stock of gold and purple ribbons they had! From that moment onwards, LSU’s colors became purple and gold.
Summary of the colors of Mardi Gras
Did you enjoy learning about the colors of Mardi Gras? Let’s summarize and review the key information about Mardi Gras colors below.
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- In 1872, the colors purple, green and gold were officially named the colors of Mardi Gras.
- That same year, the King of Carnival put a proclamation in the newspaper asking people to drape their balconies in purple, green and gold.
- During the 1892 Rex parade, themed “the Symbolism of Colors”, the Mardi Gras colors received their meanings: purple = justice, green = faith, and gold = power.
- In 1893, Louisiana State University‘s school colors changed, from blue and white, to purple and gold.
- Mask wearing is encouraged during Mardi Gras. In fact, parade float riders are legally required to wear masks while on floats.
- During the Carnival season you’ll frequently see people wearing clothing, masks and beads in the colors of Mardi Gras.
If you want to learn more about Mardi Gras, its history and traditions, make sure you check out our post with 100+ facts about Mardi Gras!
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Looking for more fact-based posts?
Mardi Gras isn’t the only holiday that has symbolism and meaning in the items that represent it. Check out these posts with more holiday symbolism!
- Thanksgiving symbols – Ever wonder why we eat turkey or cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving? Head to the post to learn the history of the symbols of Thanksgiving.
- Valentine’s Day symbols – Check out this post to learn about the items that symbolize Valentine’s Day, like Cupid, hearts, roses, love knots, Valentine’s Day cards, and lovebirds.
- St. Patrick’s Day symbols – Learn the importance of shamrocks and leprechauns on this holiday.
- Samhain traditions – Ever wonder where we got our Halloween traditions like carving pumpkins, trick or treating, wearing Halloween costumes? Check out the history of Samhain to find out!
- Chinese Zodiac – The Chinese Zodiac is made up of 12 animal signs (ie. year of the ox, year of the tiger, etc) that each have the distinct qualities and traits. Read the post to find out more!
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About the author
Since graduating from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Jess has been living and working in Los Angeles, CA. She is a freelance writer, specializing in content related to fashion, food and drink and film industry topics. Find out more about Jess here.
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