Today is Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday!! *throws beads*
Typically when I think of Mardi Gras, I think of New Orleans. As many times as I’ve traveled to the Big Easy, I’ve never visited during the Mardis Gras festivities, however. On even the most ordinary of days, the parties never seem to stop in New Orleans. But from what I hear and see via numerous media outlets, Mardi Gras is even bigger, wilder, and more extravegant than usual. There are endless parades, balls, costumes, beads, booze,
boobs, and king cake. It’s not just a day-long celebration, it’s a season!
Of course, New Orleans isn’t the only place where Mardi Gras is celebrated with such exuberance. Brazil and Venice are also home of famous Carnival, as it is also known, celebrations. Just one look at my Instagram and Facebook feeds and I can see friends in various parts of the world – quite a few of whom are in the Caribbean – celebrating the coming of the Lenten season with beautiful
skimpy costumes and dancing in the streets.
But what is the big celebration really all about?
Brief History of Mardi Gras
It may come as no surprise, but Mardi Gras is a pagan-turned-Christian holiday that can be traced back to medieval Europe; through the 17th and 18th centuries in Rome and Venice.
According to historians, Mardi Gras dates back thousands of years to pagan celebrations of spring and fertility, including the raucous Roman festivals of Saturnalia and Lupercalia. When Christianity arrived in Rome, religious leaders decided to incorporate these popular local traditions into the new faith, an easier task than abolishing them altogether.As a result, the excess and debauchery of the Mardi Gras season became a prelude to Lent, the 40 days of penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.Along withChristianity, Mardi Gras spread from Rome to other European countries, including France, Germany, Spain and England.
Traditionally, in the days leading up to Lent, merrymakers would binge on all the meat, eggs, milk and cheese that remained in their homes, preparing for several weeks ofeating only fish and fasting. In France, the day before Ash Wednesday came to be known as Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday.” The word “carnival,” another common name for the pre-Lenten festivities, may also derive from this vegetarian-unfriendly custom: in Medieval Latin, carnelevarium means to take away or remove meat. (Source: history.com)
On March 2, 1699, French-Canadian explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville arrived at a plot of ground 60 miles directly south of New Orleans, and named it “Pointe du Mardi Gras” when his men realized it was the eve of the festive holiday. Bienville also established “Fort Louis de la Louisiane” (which is now Mobile) in 1702. In 1703, the tiny settlement of Fort Louis de la Mobile celebrated America’s very first Mardi Gras.
New Orleans was established in 1718 by Bienville. By the 1730s, Mardi Gras was celebrated openly in New Orleans, but not with the parades we know today. In the early 1740s, Louisiana’s governor, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, established elegant society balls, which became the model for the New Orleans Mardi Gras balls of today. The earliest reference to Mardi Gras “Carnival” appears in a 1781 report to the Spanish colonial governing body. (Source: mardigrasneworleans.com)
Louisiana is the only U.S. state where Mardi Gras is a legal holiday (est. 1875). That’s right, a legally justified turn up! #EauxLeDoIt
The celebration of Mardi Gras or Carnival typically begins after the Twelfth Night (January 5th or 6th) – the end of the twelve days of the Christmas holiday – on the day of Epiphany, the day known as the adoration of the Magi, who brought gifts to the infant Jesus. The celebration continues through to the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day Lent, a day of fasting. The traditional purpose of the 6-week observance of Lent is to prepare the Christian believer through prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement and self-denial. Lent culminates in the joyful occasion of Easter Sunday, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus.
For those who didn’t know much about the background and meaning of Mardi Gras, there you go! I really loved reading about this rich history, with its pagan and religious ties, and thought I’d share a few tid bits.
I always enjoy celebrating the “fattiness” of Fat Tuesday in a last hurrah, as they say, before Lent starts. Though I have not typically belonged to churches that observe Lent, I enjoy taking the season to meditate, reflect, and fast in order to get my spiritual house in order. I haven’t decided yet what I will sacrifice this season, but the fuss of yet another Mardi Gras has me doing some last minute soul-searching. You know, my favorite pasttime 🙂
Anybody else celebrate/observe Fat Tuesday? Has anyone traveled to NOLA or abroad for Carnival fesitivies? Anyone else preparing for Lent?
Laissez les bon temps rouler,