First Mardi Gras
They continued west (along the Mississippi Sound) in the long boats and encountered what was defined as "black rocks" preventing passage to the mainland. However, with a storm brewing they had no choice but to brave the black rocks that were actually Mud Lumps. As the storm worsened, they navigated around the barriers and encountered the entrance to the East Pass of the Mississippi (now called North Pass). Iberville led his crew upriver when on March 3, 1699, Mardi Gras Day, spent the night at a bend in the river which he named Mardi Gras. He continued up-river inquiring as to LaSalle and Tonti, specifically looking for the Quinipissas tribe described in LaSalle's Journals. After trekking northward with frustration, they retraced southward to a fork in the river. Iberville sent the main body of men to return to Ship Island via the original Pass while he and four men and an Indian Guide went on to explore the new tributary which led them to the two lakes, now called the Maurepas and the Pontchartrain.
March 3, Mardi Gras Day, they traveled 12 leagues upstream to a point of land on the east side of the river they called Mardi Gras. The next morning, they shot their guns to alert the Indians and continued upriver in search of the Malbanchya tribe described by LaSalle.
Monsieur Surgeres reported: Tuesday, the 3rd, Mardi Gras, toward seven in the morning, the services of the mass were held and we chanted a Te Deum to celebrate our acquaintance with the river Mississippi.
Wednesday, the 4th, Ash Wednesday, everyone received the ashes on the forehead, then we offered the sacrifice of the Mass. After having planted a cross and having had our breakfast, we embarked again.
Note: The Mardi Gras Bend in the river Mississippi River no longer exists, but would have been situated approximately 60 miles south of New Orleans.
The foundation of Mardi Gras was started long before the French. Some historians see a relationship to the ancient fertility rituals performed to welcome the coming of Spring, a time of rebirth. One possible early version of the Mardi Gras festival was the Lupercalia. This was a celebration around mid-February in Rome. The early Church leaders diverted the pagan practices toward a more Christian focus.
In Christian communities around the world, the 40 days preceding Easter comprise Lent, the season of prayer and fasting observed by the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian denominations during the forty days and seven Sundays before Easter Sunday. It begins with Ash Wednesday, the day many Catholics go to church to receive the sign of the cross marked in ash on their foreheads, its purpose being to remind them of their own mortality.