Happy Fat Tuesday!

Vintage Mardi Gras Madness Around the World (Photos)

In honor of Fat Tuesday, here's a look back at the masks, beads, and elaborate costumes of Mardi Gras festivities past around the world.

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Each year, millions of tourists flock to major cities all over the world for a weekend-long celebration leading up to Fat Tuesday, or “Mardi Gras.” Donning masks, beads, and elaborate costumes, revelers have joined the festivities—and participated in the unique traditions of each country—for over 500 years. From Venice to Rio de Janeiro and, of course, New Orleans, The Daily Beast takes a look back at the history of Mardi Gras around the globe. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

 

Here, entertainer Orson Welles films the Rio de Janeiro Carnival celebration in Brazil.

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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Dating back to 1723, Carnival in Brazil is the country’s biggest celebration. It is singlehandedly responsible for the vast majority of Brazil’s annual tourism, bringing over 2 million tourists to the city of Rio de Janeiro. The festival is known for its “samba schools,” where groups of Carnival attendees from the same neighborhoods work together on floats, costumes, and dance routines to compete in Sambradrome, the climax of the festival.

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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

While the Samba Schools compete and the various balls are underway, many locals and visitors take to the streets of Rio de Janeiro for street festivals, where music and dancing is abundant. 

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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Brazilian beauty Ana Bentes stands on float under the extra weight of the costume that won the top award during the 1951 festivities.

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Haiti

Haiti’s largest Carnival celebration takes place in its capital city of Port-au-Prince. The celebration begins in January and lasts until Fat Tuesday, which typically occurs in late February or early March. Just like celebrations throughout the rest of the world, the Haitian “karnaval” includes wild costumes, elaborate floats, and plenty of music and dancing.

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New Orleans, Lousiana

The U.S. celebrations date back to 1699 when French-Canadian explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville was sent to claim French territory in what is now Louisiana. Realizing it was the eve of the holiday, Bienville named the spot 60 miles south of what is now New Orleans “Pointe du Mardi Gras.” While the local traditions began in Mobile, Alabama, three years later—krewes were created and parades were organized—the major celebrations of Carnival today happen in New Orleans. Along with the elaborate floats, traditions also include masks, formal balls, and some pretty raunchy bead exchanges.

 

A general view of “Rex,” king of the New Orleans Mardi Gras parade, leads the way through thousands of revelers packed in the streets in 1946.

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New Orleans, Louisiana

A scene from the street as a float passes by in 1970.

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New Olreans, Louisiana

A float carries a cannon and a sign reading “Hurrah! The War is Over” during a 1973 parade.

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New Orleans, Louisiana

People watch a Mardi Gras parade from behind a barrier in 1978.

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New Orleans, Louisiana

Floats make their way down crowded Canal Street.

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New Orleans, Louisiana

Figures on a float look down at the crowd during a Mardi Gras procession in 1961.

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New Orleans, Louisiana

The queen of the ball greets guests at one of the many galas held during Mardi Gras season.

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New Orleans, Louisiana

An elaborately costumed & made-up couple enjoy the celebrations. 

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New Orleans, Louisiana

The king, queen, and their court of Mystic, New Orleans's oldest krewe, take their places during the 1948 Mardi Gras ball.

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New Orleans, Louisiana

Felt fedoras, red shirts, and rosettes are part of their costume for these 1979 Mardi Gras participants.

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New Orleans, Louisiana (February 1978)

A woman smiles during Mardi Gras 1978.

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New Orleans, Louisiana

In a stunning display of the elaborate costumes, a man wears a magnificent feathered headdress in orange and yellow while playing a tambourine during the 1979 celebration. 

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New Orleans, Louisiana

During the 1979 festivities, “Mame” appears “naked” to the waist with the aid of a rubber torso.

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New Orleans, Louisiana

Six Mardi Gras princesses ride a parade float in their formal gowns. 

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New Orleans, Louisiana

The previous year’s Mardi Gras queen waves to the crowds from her perch on a float in March 1951. 

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Venice, Italy

Dating back to 1162, Martedí Grasso in Venice is one of the oldest Carnival celebrations in the world, bringing in over 3 million tourists to the city each year. Particularly known for the elaborate masks attendees wear, the festival’s biggest event is the contest for la maschera più bella, or “the most beautiful mask,” which includes a judging panel of international costume and fashion designers.

 

Here, a colorful mask with a feathered bird atop its head stops to pose for a photo in Piazza San Marco.

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Venice, Italy

A couple of Venice Carnival participants pose in Piazza San Marco.

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Venice, Italy

Revelers dressed in white float down a canal in Venice.

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Venice, Italy

Women in blue-and-black costumes and disguised by white masks participate in the Venice Carnival.

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Venice, Italy

Carnival attendees in full costume fill the streets in front of the Florian Café.