Never did a city deserve a party more than Galveston, and its citizens are of such sturdy and good-natured stock that it would take more than a hurricane to interrupt their annual Mardi Gras! Besides it only happens once a year, that special time when tradition dictates we can be bad before we're required to be good. Bad as in overindulging in food, drink and fun; good as in giving up the bad in honor of the Lenten season, which starts the day after Shrove (Fat) Tuesday Feb. 24th and the last day of Mardi Gras festivities.
Now in its 98th year Mardi Gras on Galveston Island is getting ready for the crowds. Each year over a half million visitors and local revelers converge on the Island's entertainment district. This year the party begins Feb. 13 and the locals are ready to pull out all the stops for a wild and crazy 12-day run of live music, high spirits, good food and delicious fun.
Galveston's Mardi Gras, which runs Feb. 13-24, is rooted deep in local history. According to mardigrasgaleveston.com Web site, The date of Mardi Gras depends on the date of Easter. The celebration takes place at the end of a long carnival season beginning January 6, or "Twelfth Night," and is celebrated in many Roman Catholic communities around the world, most notably in New Orleans and in Rio de Janeiro.
Mardi Gras is a French term meaning "Fat Tuesday." The term arose from the custom of parading a fat ox through the streets on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Revelers eat, drink, carouse and make merry during Mardi Gras, attempting to satiate the desires of the flesh prior to the abstinence observed during the Lenten season.
Galveston's first recorded Mardi Gras celebration, in 1867, included a masked ball at Turner Hall (Sealy at 21st St.) and a theatrical performance from Shakespeare's "King Henry IV" featuring Alvan Reed (a local justice of the peace) as Falstaff.
The first year that Mardi Gras was celebrated on a grand scale in Galveston was 1871 with the emergence of two rival Mardi Gras societies, or "Krewes" called the Knights of Momus (known only by the initials "K.O.M.") and the Knights of Myth, both of which devised night parades, masked balls, exquisite costumes and elaborate invitations. The Knights of Momus, led by some prominent Galvestonians, decorated horse-drawn wagons for a torch lit night parade. Boasting such themes as "The Crusades," "Peter the Great," and "Ancient France," the procession through downtown Galveston culminated at Turner Hall with a presentation of tableaux and a grand gala.
Not to be outdone, the Knights of Myth also sponsored a spectacular parade, which, according to a newspaper account, "suddenly sprang out of the bowels of the earth with torch lights, cars and horses." This parade featured "Pocahontas," "Scalawag's Enemies," and "Bismark's Grand Band," and ended at Casino Hall with similar themes and a gala.
In the years that followed, the parades and balls grew more elaborate, glittering with pomp and splendor and attracting attention throughout the state. So grand were plans for the 1872 celebration that newspaper reports declared that this Mardi Gras "promised to eclipse anything ever attempted on Texas soil." The newly constructed Tremont Opera House, decorated with hundreds of caged canaries "trilling their gladsome voices," provided a luxurious venue for the staging of tableaux (based on "The Pleasures of the Imagination") and the evening ball.
World War II brought the annual celebration to a stand still, but in 1985, native Galvestonian George P. Mitchell and his wife, Cynthia, launched the revival of a city wide Mardi Gras celebration. The Mitchells had long dreamed of restoring the Island's splendid tradition, and the grand opening of their elegant Tremont House hotel in the historic Strand District provided the spark to do so.
The 2009 Mardi Gras once again features multiple stages on the streets of the Galveston Historic District. Here international Blues and Jazz headliners will entertain nonstop on the stages during the two primary weekends of Mardi Gras.
If you love a good parade, you will have eleven extravagant parades from which to choose.. Each one is uniquely different than the others.There is even a special afternoon parade this year hosted by the Firefighters Local 571. This parade is dedicated to the families and children of Galveston who've been through such a tough year. The 2009 parade celebrates “A Salute to Comic Book Heroes”, with costumed kids and decorated floats.
If you love a good parade, you will have no less than ten from which to choose. Or take them all in if you dare. Each one is uniquely different than the others. For a full entertainment schedule, including parade dates and times, check the official calendar.