Now that the festivities are over, here's a bit of history of Mardi Gras.
Meaning "Fat Tuesday" in french, this festive day came to America in 1699 with with French explorer Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d'Iberville, though it's been celebrated for much longer. Mardi Gras has its roots in the ancient Roman Lupercalia and later the christian Carnival as the last day of celebration before the more somber days of lent. Mardi Gras or Carnival is celebrated in many parts of the world, especially those of Christian tradition.
In the United States, Mardi Gras is most closely associated with the parades, balls and krewes of New Orleans, but it's history is more than that. In 19th century french-speaking Acadiana (south Louisiana), people wearing masks or costumes, on foot and on horseback, led by their "Capitiane" would make ther Mardi Gras courir or run, going from house to house begging for ingredients for a communal meal. These courirs were often wild, rowdy celebrations and attempts were made to suppress them in subsequent, more civilized decades, but a few Louisiana towns, such as Mamou and Eunice, still hold these traditional celebrations today, preserving a piece of the rich history of south Louisiana.
In more urban parts of Louisiana, namely New Orleans, masked parades have been held since the early 1800s, but were in danger of being banned due to violence attributed to the masked participants. The first krewe, Comus, appeared in 1857 in New Orleans and proved that the parades could be peaceful, safe and festive. The Comus Krewe also started the tradition of having a masked ball after the parade of floats and they are responsible for starting the customs that led to the mysterious "secret societies" that surrounds the krewes to this day. Not coincidentally, the Comus Krewe was the first to incorporate mythology into it's theme. Comus, or Komos, is the Greek god of festivity and revels.
Today, Mardi Gras parades and celebrations have spread to other cities in the United States, maintaining a tradition that goes back almost two hundred years in the United States.
As for the drawings of the critters above, they are related to Procambarus clarkii, also known as the crawfish, crayfish, or "crawdad", a favorite food in south Louisiana. The photo is from Atlas. Crustacea by James Dwight Dana and published in 1855. — Joel Richard