It is hard to imagine that in the starkness and stillness of this winter season a raucous festival is brewing. While we’ve been hibernating a cyclone of feathers, sequined costumes, beads and booze has been preparing to whip through city streets all over the world. Mardi Gras originated in medieval Europe and since the early 18th century has grown in tradition and popularity in the United States. Every year, droves of party goers flock to New Orleans, Louisiana to celebrate. The French name Mardi Gras refers to Carnival celebrations as they are known in Spain and Mexico. The celebration during this time marks the beginning of the Christian feasts of the Epiphany (Three Kings Day). The joy culminates in the day before Ash Wednesday. In some regions this day is know as Shrove Tuesday (the last day of the liturgical season known as Shrovetide) and in others it’s Fat Tuesday, referring to the practice of the last night of gorging on rich foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season. So you see what began as an occasion of Christian reflection has morphed into a season to let the good times roll! A season rich with it’s own vocabulary and hedonistic traditions.
Parades wind through the crowded streets and jazz bands entertain the jubilant party goers. Stilt walkers and Queens wave to the bawdy revelers. Voodoo is brandished and trinkets tossed. Bead throwing and Mardi Gras go hand-in-hand. The tradition of bead throwing begins with understand the original colors, which were determined by the king of the first daytime Carnival in 1872. He wanted the colors to be royal colors – purple for justice, gold for power and green for faith. The idea is to toss the color to the person who most exhibited the color’s meaning. Each year a new king of Mardi Gras is crowned. Given the name Rex, he mounts a gilded throne on the lead float as the parade zigzags through the French Quarter. Proud is Rex to accept the symbolic key to the city of New Orleans. Elaborately festooned masks hide revelers identities. In a wicked fashion this allows the partygoers to escape society and class constraints. Dancers dance, and those who cannot, dance anyway!
Big Easy Traditions
The phrase “Laissez les bons temps rouler!” is French for”let the good times roll” ! And is one of the most popular sayings during Mardi Gras. The best way to let the good times roll is with food and drink. A King cake is a seasonal baked confection containing a small plastic baby figure symbolizing Jesus Christ. The king cake tradition began in France in the 19th century, and honors the Christian story of the three kings traveling with gifts for the Christ child. As with the beads, the cake’s three colors represent justice (purple), faith (green), and power (gold). The cake’s ring shape symbolizes the unity of all Christians as well as the shape of a king’s crown. The lucky person to find the Babe in their slice of cake will be blessed with wealth or luck. Today people of all faiths enjoy king cakes between Twelfth Night (Epiphany) and Mardi Gras. Entrees of Jambalaya, Gumbo or red beans and rice are enjoyed with a hurricane cocktail in the Big Easy and wherever fun loving souls gather.
With Mardi Gras festivities well underway many of some thoughts may weigh indulgence compared with sacrifice.
Anne Bradstreet was the most prominent of early English poets of North America and the first female writer in England’s North American colonies to be published. She was born in the spring of 1612 and died in the autumn of 1672. In her poetry she spoke of adversity and appreciation. “If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” Let the good times roll for now for nothing this good can last forever, balance is the key to true happiness.
How do you let the good times roll? What are your favorite types of celebrations? Are there celebrations from years gone by that still stand out in your mind?
“It’s in our soul to have Mardi Gras.” — Arthur Hardy