Biloxi claims to be Mardi Gras birthplace

NEW YORK -- Some say the origin of Mardi Gras goes back to a pagan celebration of the coming of spring and its renewal of life, with the Greeks and Romans eventually turning it into an excuse for debauchery.

Many cities claim to be the home of America's first Mardi Gras; one such place is Biloxi, Miss. On March 3, 1699, Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville and his party of French explorers camped for the night near a small bayou in the swampy wilderness at the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Wet and tired, they remembered that back home it was Mardi Gras Day, so, feeling homesick, they opened a bottle of wine, toasted the king and named the site Bayou de Mardi Gras. That site became Biloxi.

Visitors can get a glimpse of memorabilia from past celebrations at the city's Mardi Gras Museum, located on the first floor of the Magnolia Hotel. The hotel was built in 1847. The museum is an ever-changing exhibit hall keeping up with each year's celebrations of the occasion.

Elsewhere in the Americas, there is Mardi Gras in Trinidad, or Carnival, which begins immediately after Christmas with parties and daily practice sessions in the "panyards," where visitors can watch steel bands preparing for music competitions.

This display of costume, dance and music attracts thousands of locals and tourists every year.

The two-day party immediately preceding the beginning of Lent, features steelpan, soca and calypso music, and extravagantly costumed groups parade down the streets of Port of Spain and in Queen's Park Savannah.

During the costumed extravaganza in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, many colorful parades, lavish balls and spontaneous street celebrations reflect the nation's richly intertwined African, European and Native American heritages.

The centerpiece attractions are the official samba school parades, in which thousands of singers, dancers and musicians perform each night.

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