Everyone Loves Mardi Gras!


No, that’s not a picture of us. But don’t you love it?

Every year, sometime in February, we start hearing about Mardi Gras.  As a life-long resident of the Atlanta area, and one who grew up Presbyterian rather than Catholic, I never really knew much about it.

by Infrogmation of NO via WikiMedia Commons

A number of years ago, we had a friend from Louisiana, and she brought us some “real King’s Cake.” It was delicious, but I still didn’t know much about the traditions of this fun-sounding holiday.

Pretty much all I knew was it was a wild time with food, parades, drinking, crowds, and beads thrown from elaborate floats. And somewhere I heard that the more skin you showed, the more beads you got…

Humm, wonder about these people…

Anyway, I started doing some research, and I found out some really interesting things. First of all, the history of a Mardi Gras celebration actually began sometime in the Second Century in Europe when ancient Romans observed pagan celebrations of spring and fertility.

When Christianity arrived in Rome, the leaders of the early Church decided it made more sense to incorporate familiar rituals into the new faith rather than abolishing them. And so Carnival became the period between Christmas and Easter, beginning with January 6 (variously known as Twelfth Night,  Three Kings Day, or Epiphany) and continuing until the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.

by Infrogmation via WikiMedia Commons

The idea was that people could eat, drink, and be merry, then confess their sins, and observe 40 days of simple living, prayer, and fasting before the glorious celebration of Easter.

The celebration spread from Rome to other European countries with each country adding their own local customs including handing out cakes, coins and other trinkets to the local populations, culminating in the wide variety of traditions observed all over the world today.

Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Tuesday (also the day before Ash Wednesday) perhaps started as a way to use up the eggs, milk, and sugar before Lent, when simpler foods were supposed to be eaten. Shrove Tuesday is exactly 47 days before Easter Sunday, and various countries include pancakes in their local festivals (pancake throwing, pancake races, etc.). Many churches hold pancake breakfasts in honor of this tradition.

by Scot Terry Grins2Go via WikiMedia Commons

It is generally accepted that the first Mardi Gras celebration in the United States was in 1703 in the tiny settlement of Fort Louis de la Mobile.

Today, elaborate celebrations are held in Mobile as well as numerous cities throughout the US, including Pensacola, Biloxi, San Diego,  and various cities in Louisiana.

Obviously, though, the most famous of these is New Orleans. Wherever the celebrations, they always include music, food, parades, costumes and parties. And there’s sure to be an event that’s right for you, whatever your age!

You’ll also notice that there are three colors that traditionally dominate Mardi Gras festivities. They are Gold, which represents Power, Purple, which represents Justice, and Green, which represents Faith.

Rumor is that Mardi Gras colors influenced the choice of school colors for archrivals Tulane University and LSU. LSU’s website contains the following story:

"It is believed that the colors were worn for the first time by an LSU team in the spring of 1893 when the LSU baseball squad beat Tulane in the first intercollegiate contest played in any sport by Louisiana State University. Team captain E.B. Young reportedly handpicked those colors for the LSU squad.Later that year, the first football game was played. On Nov. 25, 1893, football coach/chemistry professor Charles Coates and some of his players went into town to purchase ribbon to adorn their gray jerseys as they prepared to play the first LSU gridiron game.Stores were stocking ribbons in the colors of Mardi Gras — purple, gold and green — for the coming Carnival season. However, none of the green had yet arrived at Reymond’s Store at the corner of Third and Main streets. Coates and quarterback Ruffin Pleasant bought up all of the purple and gold stock and made it into rosettes and badges."

The story continues – Tulane bought much of the only remaining color – green! (Their colors are blue and green.) Tulane’s website, however, omits any reference to this story…

by Bart Everson via WikiMedia Commons

Since it’s obviously too late to plan your New Orleans/Mardi Gras trip for this year, it might be a good time to make plans – and reservations – for next year. Hotels fill up rapidly, and festivities are sold out months in advance.

If international travel is on your calendar for next year, you might schedule your trip around this time for  Rio, Brazil, home of the world’s largest Mardi Gras celebrations, or Cologne, Germany, or Venice, Italy. Each city promises fabulous celebrations for your enjoyment!

Or you could try a smaller, calmer celebration closer to home. Universal Studios in Orlando promises “Florida’s Biggest Party” on select nights from February 7 – April 18 this year. They’ll have 16 concerts, parades with street performers tossing out beads, and family-friendly fun and food for all, as well as adults-only New Orleans-themed after-hours celebrations in CityWalk.

So this year or next, there’s still time to make your plans. Local cities often have their own celebrations – Tybee Island among others. And restaurants and bars also offer Mardi Gras specials like the Beads & Booze Crawl in Atlanta. So enjoy! What a wonderful way to celebrate the end of winter!

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