Mardi Gras beads are necklaces that are thrown into the crowd by participants in annual Mardi Gras parades. Usually celebrated 47 days before Easter, Mardi Gras is known for the parades, beads and king cake. People sometimes travel across the world to attend a Mardi Gras parade to catch the beads.
Typically, Mardi Gras beads and medallions are made of plastic or polystone. These beads come in many different colors, shapes and sizes. Some Mardi Gras beads are 12 inches (30.5 cm) long while other necklaces hang as far as a person’s waistline. The beads can be small or enormous in size. Medallions commonly hang off of the necklace in the way that a jewel would; the medallions usually represent the krewe that is throwing the beads from the float.
While traditional beads are jewel-like in appearance, light-up beads are also popular. Light-up necklaces come in many styles but two popular styles include necklaces in which each individual bead lights up and others in which the medallion lights up. Whenever Mardi Gras beads light up, each bead can represent something different: local sports teams, logos, and references to New Orleans heritage.
As far back as the early 1880s beads were thrown in parades. A man dressed as Santa would ride a float and throw glass beads. By the 1900s the official Mardi Gras throw was beads. Due to the cost of glass beads, plastic beads quickly replaced them for use during parades.
Purple, green and gold are the official Mardi Gras bead colors. Each color has a meaning: purple stands for justice, green signify faith, and gold means power. Even though these are the most widely used colors for Mardi Gras beads, necklaces of other colors are often thrown at the parades.
Parades consist of floats that are decorated by different "krewes." The krewe members ride the floats and throw various items to the people watching the parade. People traditionally shout "Throw me something, Mister," and in return receive a bead or trinket. Beads are not the only things thrown at Mardi Gras parades; cups, doubloons and other small toys may also be thrown.
Doubloons are coins that can be made from metal or wood. These coins are generally the size of a silver dollar. Different colors and krewe emblems are used to distinguish the krewe that is throwing a certain doubloon. In some instances a doubloon is attached to a Mardi Gras bead. Cups, like the doubloons, may also bear a krewe emblem. Each cup can hold approximately 10 ounces (283.5 grams).
Trinkets consist of anything else that may be thrown at a Mardi Gras parade. Candy, stuffed animals, Frisbees® and T-shirts are thrown and usually bear the donating krewe's emblem. Other items that may be thrown in the parade are whistles, balls, roses and coupons for free local gifts.