The History Of Venetian Mardi Gras Masks
Ancient Greek actors used to wear masks during festivals in honor of the God of Theater, Dionysus. However, given the huge proportions of ancient amphitheaters, the audiences couldn’t see the actors’ expressions clearly. That’s when the theater groups decided to wear elaborated designed and painted masks to convey emotions and reactions. There were laughing masks, crying masks, angry masks, broken-hearted masks – you name it.
The mask culture was passed on to the Romans when they conquered Italy, along with the love of elaborate theater. The Romans passed on the love of masks to the rest of Europe.
Masks And The Common People
From the theater, it didn’t take long for masks to become a costume accessory for both common and rich folks. People were quick to take advantage of the fact that these masks allowed the lower classes to mix with the upper classes without scandal. It also allowed free, unadulterated voyeurism, as it was possible to watch anyone without pretense while hiding behind the mask. Most of all, it allowed men and women to be intimate with each other in public. Men could dress as women and mingle among them more easily as well. Masks provided the ideal solution to a rule-strapped, conservative society which did not allow free expression of people’s desires.
Masks And Carnivals And Masquerade Parties
Carnivals and masquerade parties became the ideal melting pot for different classes, communities and kinds of people to mix and blend without question. People continued to wear masks during their every day routines and soon several regions of Europe began to witness unacceptable social scandals, daring robberies and other lawless behavior. In Venice, masks were outlawed in order to prevent such behavior. However, the use of masks continued in parties and carnivals.
The Custom Of Masks In New Orleans
Mardi Gras was introduced to New Orleans by its original French settlers. The celebration started as a strictly catholic procession, but it was outlawed. However, a rich French plantation owner, Bernard Xavier de Marigny de Mandeville raised funds to initiate an official Mardi Gras celebration in 1833. Since then, Mardi Gras has been an official New Orleans holiday, a day when all people are equal, notwithstanding their class, creed, color or economic situation.
The Present Day Mardi Gras Celebration
Present day Mardi Gras celebrations are organized by the Krewe group, a secret group whose members prefer to keep their identities secret. The first Mardi Gras celebration was organized by the Mystick Krewe of Comus organization.
This group ‘Americanized’ the old French Creole carnival tradition, till it evolved into something totally unique. This Creole-American Carnival day was declared a legal state holiday in 1875. In 1991, to prevent lawlessness and race discriminatory crimes behind masks, the New Orleans City Council ruled that all carnival organizers must make their identities known to the city’s Human Relations Commission. This ruling was later on canceled since it infringed on the rights of privacy which was granted by the First Amendment.
Today, anyone can join the Krewe carnival organizers after paying a fee. This is totally different from the old Krewe structure which offered membership only to white males of a certain class.
What Happens During Mardi Gras
Private masked balls take place from January 6th, exactly twelve days after Christmas. This continues till Mardi Gras Day. On Mardi Gras day, men and women dress in their very best – tuxedos and ball gowns, cocktail outfits and so on. People don elaborate, glittery and highly imaginative masks to cloak their features. The masks leave the eyes exposed, and sometimes the lips. People wear long bead necklaces and throw beads and coins at each other.
Krewe members parade their finest on floats, throwing doubloons, beads and other items to people. People mingle freely, sing songs and enjoy themselves during the carnival.
The Official Mardi Gras Colors
Parade goers wear green, purple and gold. These colors were chosen by the Krewe of the Rex parade in 1872; green symbolizes faith, purple justice, and gold, power. You’ll see these colors in Mardi Gras masks as well.
Types Of Masks Worn
People wear either fixed masks or stick masks which are held over the eye. Masks are feathered, painted and gilded with glitter, sequins, gold paint and intriguing designs.
Comedia Venetian masks: Pick a mask based on the feeling you want to express. There are sad masks, happy masks, fun masks, quirky masks, and masks with long pointed noses and raised eyebrows! All of them are exquisitely designed and painted in gold tones.
Full face Venetian masks: These are meant to cover your face fully and give you maximum anonymity. You can choose a mask all in multiple finishes – gold, white and gold, white and black, all black and so on. These masks are true works of art.