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Mardi Gras

Posted Sunday, March 6, 2011, at 7:29 PM

Right now, people around the world of French, Spanish, and Portuguese heritage are celebrating Marti Gras or Carnival. This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. It is the beginning of Lent. For the non-Catholics out there, Lent is a period of 40 days, Monday through Saturday, of fasting, abstinence, prayer, and preparation for the holiest day of the liturgical year, Easter.

For Americans, when you think of Mardi Gras, you think of New Orleans. It is hard to explain Louisiana, New Orleans, or Mardi Gras, to people who have never experienced it. My mother's family is from New Orleans and my Aunt Stacy still lives there. Even as a person who has visited during Mardi Gras and other times of year, it can be a bit difficult to give a true understanding to the uninitiated.

The first non-native inhabitants of New Orleans were Spanish. As a result of the never-ending warfare in Europe during the 1600's, it became a French territory. Today we don't think of the French as powerful warriors and great explorers, but before the American Revolution the French controlled most of the interior of North America and had explored the entire length of the Mississippi River. New Orleans was a critical location for controlling North America. It was the principal outlet for all commerce between the Appellation and the Rocky Mountains.

Louisiana is a truly unique place in America and a substantially different melting pot than the rest of the United States. The culture is overwhelmingly influenced by its French origins. However, French of several different flavors. The Cajun are the Acadian French expelled by Brittan from costal Canada in the 1700s who resettled in Southern Louisiana. One flavor of Creole are the original Spanish and first French settlers along with several tribes of local Indians who became franconized. Another flavor of Creole are French colonial Western Africans, Carib Indians, Haitians, and other Caribbean islanders who settled in Napoleonic Louisiana. Each brought with them parts of their own culture and language, which mixed and mingled in a culture of French aristocracy, commoners, American trappers and pioneers, plantation owners, and slaves. As recently as forty years ago, another dash of seasoning was added to the area when large numbers of fleeing French colonial Vietnamese settled in New Orleans mixing some of their own flavor into the culture.

Imagine a place that brags about not having a single shred of puritan ethic, is overwhelmingly Catholic, and a large number of believers in Voodoo. (Yes, just like West Africa and Haiti, there are plenty of Voodoo believers who are also either Catholic or Baptist.)

In a place like this, just days before literally putting on sack cloth and ashes, denying your self earthly pleasures for 40 days, what do you do? You throw one of the world's biggest parties with the goal of satiating every earthly desire. Marti Gras literally means Fat Tuesday referencing the last day of feasting and revelry before Lent.

Mardi Gras is a week long party where several hundred thousand people are walking around in costumes and several hundred thousand more are dressed in purple, gold, and green, draped in beads, all while drinking large rum drinks or beer, doing what people do when they are semi-anonymous, drunk, and are in a city throwing the world's largest hedonistic party. (WARNING, the best looking women at Mardi Gras just may be men. One of my friends who joined me on a Marti Gras trip discovered this in a rather unsettling way.)

The most famous part of Mardi Gras is the numerous parades. The parades feature marching bands, celebrities, floats, and float riders who throw untold numbers of beads, doubloons, and a multitude of other souvenirs and novelties. Some of the best parades are:

Endymion - the Greek god of handsome men and fertility, the largest parade of Mardi Gras

Bacchus - the Roman god of wine and drunkenness as well as drunken orgies, featuring

the most elaborate floats, big national celebrities, and Las Vegas type showgirls

Cleopatra - the all female parade

Choctaw - themed for a local Indian tribe with both street and river parades

Krewe d'Etat - a pirate themed parade

Proteus - the oldest parade, which is Egyptian themed

Zeus - the only night parade

Zulu - the all black parade featuring marching jazz bands. People in the crowd throw

money to the musicians who bend down to pick it up while marching without missing

a single note! Only the chosen very few in the crowd are given a coconut from the

people on the Zulu floats; and

Rex - the parade, which originated the colors of Mardi Gras, purple, gold, and green. (Purple

for justice, gold for power, and green for faith.)

At 12:01, Wednesday morning, mounted police sweep the revelers from the streets and send everyone home. On Wednesday morning, much of the city goes to church, goes to confession, puts on ashes, and begins its fast.

Mardi Gras is not for the feint of heart. However, for the adventurous, it is something that should be sampled at least once.

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That's just aweful. Do they really believe God is pleased with that? Here's what His Spirit revealed in 1 Peter 4:3-5, "For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you; but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead." Also Rom 6:2 "How shall we who died to sin still live in it?" Finally Col 3:5-7 "Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry." Believers in Jesus Christ are supposed to be DEAD to such behavior, not indulging in it. I hope they learn better before they have to give an account of their behavior.

-- Posted by brazilian on Mon, Mar 7, 2011, at 8:03 AM

Dear Brazillian,

If you ever have the good fortune to experience Marti Gras, you would realize that it is soooo much fun, even God would enjoy himself.

-- Posted by Charles Hear on Mon, Mar 7, 2011, at 8:25 AM


Charles sensationalizes a bit. Yes drunken bawdiness does occur but not everyone goes to the extreme. "Fat Tuesday" is actually celebrated in other Christian countries as well. Note the Pazcki [sp?] or jelly donuts that are traditionally eaten in Eastern European countries as the last bit of sugar and fat before Lenten fasting. Ireland too has special Lenten cakes as well without sugar eggs or fat that can still be eaten during Lent, those ingredients considered foods outside Lenten fasting rules.

Like Christmas which really is no longer celebrated anywhere near a holy day [some churches don't even have a service on Christmas anymore which really shocked me as I would think part of celebrating the traditionally celebrated birthday of our Lord would be going to church]. Shrove Tuesday as it is called in many English speaking countries, is to get ready for the fasting of Lent by doing penance for our sins. The food thing is an off shoot of that. In some countries that is considered pancake day as the last day again that one eats eggs, fat and sugar before Easter to try to mimic Jesus' fasting in the desert when tempted by the devil. Eating those rich foods during Lent is symbolic of us being tempted.

Mardi Gras [literally "Tuesday Fat" in French]is now just a huge money making event in New Orleans that is LOOSELY connected with a religious practice just as going broke to buy Christmas gifts is LOOSELY connected to the Kings bringing gifts to Jesus and Bishop Nicholas [Saint Nicholas or Sinterklaas in Dutch] leaving money in the shoes of the daughters of poor families so they would have a dowry and not have to be sold into slavery in Constantinople. In some European countries today St Nicholas comes to fill the childrens' shoes on December 6th, thought to be his birthday, not on Christmas. In addition to that some countries give their gifts on January 6 [epiphany or three kings day] when the kings brought their gifts to Jesus. We have just commercialized Christmas to the hilt, blending the three holidays into one huge marketable monster that is not any holier than Mardi Gras.

Even Christmas itself was placed near the winter solstace for a reason to get the pagans to morph their midwinter celebrating that the Catholic leaders knew they wouldn't give up. All records and star alignments etc lead us to believe that Jesus was actually born in the summer months.

So long story short...lol. Yes Mardi Gras started OUT connected to a Christian celebration like many others have but really has little to do with it in reality. Now just a fun time like New Year's eve...much like Christmas is for many people who put a tree up at Thanksgiving [during Advent and not yet the Christmas season on liturgical calendar] and take it down on December 26th when the Christmas season isn't over until Epiphany when the kings [and gifts]arrive on January 6th. Have a good day.

-- Posted by Jenny Moore on Tue, Mar 8, 2011, at 8:29 AM

Sensationalize? Me??? I am dismayed that anyone would ever propose such a thing (he said tongue in cheek). ;-)

Perhaps emphasizing hedonism and sating all earthly desires may slightly distort the facts. That said, my Marti Gras experience was when I was 21 and on Spring break which may have distorted my impressions.

Still, I didn't mention the swing at Patty O'Brien's, the best way to get strands of beads (particularly the coveted pearls), or some of the more choice entertainment around Bourbon Street.

-- Posted by Charles Hear on Tue, Mar 8, 2011, at 12:40 PM

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