Mardi Bras?

Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is the pinnacle prerequisite to the Lenten season of penance. Lent is the 40 days that span between Ash Wednesday and Easter where fasting is common, and meats (fish is acceptable), cheeses and such are not typically eaten.  The week before though, aptly named Carnival, has been reserved for pagan excess & debauchery dating back to 1699 in America, and much earlier in other regions globally. Historically a Roman Catholic tradition, Mardi Gras is the last night of Carnival where it is acceptable to binge on meat, eggs, dairy leading up to Lent.

In 1856, a group of New Orleans businessmen formed a secret society.  At that time, the Mardi Gras parades were unorganized and unappealing to say the least.  Calling themselves the Mistick Krewe of Comus, in 1857, they organized a Mardi Gras procession, lit by torch, with marching bands, colorful costumes, and flamboyant floats.  It was the first of its kind.  Following that Carnival, the buzz surrounding next years party drew thousands more spectators and the krewes, as they were known, became an instrumental mainstay of Carnival that still remains today.  The Mistick Krewe is even credited with creating another ritual part of Mardi Gras, the “Meeting of the Courts”.  This tradition is reenacted by Rex, the symbolic King of Carnival.  He escorts his Queen from their festivities to join Comus at the throne of his own masquerade ball, thus concluding Mardi Gras.  With the traditions that the Mistick Krewe of Comus created, historians credit them for resurrecting Carnival and laying the foundation for making it the wonderful festival it is today.  This particular krewe ultimately paved the way for the modern day Mardi Gras celebration, and all the pomp & circumstance that surrounds New Orleans this time of year….except for maybe one unfortunate mislabeling…

…the alcohol induced boob and barf fest that some folks equate it to now.  Sure, there are some spots that families would be better off avoiding especially around evening and later. That is, unless your idea of family fun is voyeurism, and a 50+, 2 pack a day, saggy Susan is hanging from the balcony.  Trying to obtain that one sought after plastic trophy of gold, or green, or purple “medal” of shame…doled out by a 23 year old boy, who’s had too many hurricanes, and thinks said Susan is a dime piece.  There are even parts of Bourbon Street that will resemble more of a communal outdoor port-a-potty, or a puke & rally station than a festive celebration.

BUT, if that is what comes to mind when you think of Mardi Gras, you are totally missing the point!  Sure, it is about over indulgence and making merry, but it’s also about tradition, color, pageantry, celebration, and finally repentance & the promise of a new beginning.  A resurrection, if you will.  There are amazing parades for days leading up to and concluding on Mardi Gras.  The food is out of this world every day of the year in New Orleans, but tastes a tad better during Carnival.  As it should, due to the fact that come Ash Wednesday you typically give up meat (except fish), milk, cheese, for Lent.  The constant flow of music, be it jazz, zydeco or marching band that serenades you stimulates a primal need to dance, boogie, or shake what you mama gave you (or didn’t give you). The costumes are a platform to let loose and transform yourself, if just for a day, into a colorful, fully beaded character free of inhibitions.  I could go on & on, but you get the point.

So forget about the small percentage of folks who will wake up on Ash Wednesday feeling guilty, but not remembering why.  They will probably be begging to give up certain activities for Lent anyway.  Go!  Indulge!  Eat all the King Cake you can handle!  Make merry!  Maybe even begin your own family or individual Carnival traditions.  Just do it responsibly, so future generations can enjoy the indulgence as well.  We will ALL have enough to repent come Ash Wednesday, no need to let a few bad apples ruin it for the whole bunch…