The flambeaux tradition dates back to 1857 - during the first Mardi Gras. Wooden torches wrapped in rags were lit and used to guide parade routes during the night. Originally carried by enslaved Africans and free men of color, Flambeaux carriers were a direct reflection of racial segregation and discrimination in the U.S at the time.
Despite the social issues it represented, flambeaux carriers soon stole part of the show as they danced and twirled alongside the krewes brightening up the carnival sky. Spectators enjoyed them so much they would throw tips to the carriers as they passed by.
As a way of paying homage to men who carried Mardi Gras for so many years, flambeaux remains part of many parades today.
Torches carried now are lighter and safer, the tips have gone from pennies to dollars, and the entertaining exchange between the crowd and the flambeaux carriers remains a rich Carnival tradition.