One of the best known parts of Mardi Gras are Mardi Gras beads. Virtually everyone has seen video of people wearing them, catching them or trying to get them. There is no real meaning behind the custom of throwing beads. Here's a short history of the icon of Mardi Gras.
It is believed that the throwing of the beads was from the festival customs from the English Renaissance Era. Although the strung necklace was a parade handout in the 1840's, glass bead didn't actually arriv as a popular staple in New Orleans until the 1880s. The original beads were thrown out as souvenirs to awaiting crowds. The people in these parades dressed as high-class aristocrats and tossed beads and sugar coated almonds. It is believed that the "throwing of the beads" was from the festival customs from the English Renaissance era.
The first person in a New Orleans parade to use the beads was a man dressed up as Santa Claus. By the 1900, moe than 100,000 tourists traveled to New Orleas for the parade and to be a part of the popular bead tosses.
The glass beads of the early throws were imported from Czechoslovakia and Japan. Today the plastic throws are manufactured mostly in China. Beads vary in quality from cheap little short beads, to longer bigger beads, and come in a variety of styles. The majority of beads are in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold.
From the beginning Mardi Gras beads were a crowd favorite. They were cheap throws for the riders, but were nice enough to be worn. Today they are still a favorite, inciting the shout "Throw me something Mister!" as the float or truck passes by. An important note, outside the French Quarter you do NOT flash for beads. You'll be arrested. In the suburbs Mardi Gras is more family friendly, and they have created "Family Gras which is even more family oriented.
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