Mardi Gras

March 02, 2022

Yesterday was the last night of Mardi Gras, or Shrove Tuesday.  The festival season varies from city to city, and traditions such as New Orleans, Louisiana, consider Mardi Gras to stretch the entire period from Twelfth Night (Epiphany) to Ash Wednesday.  Others treat only the final three-day period before Ash Wednesday as Mardi Gras.  Epiphany always occurs 12 days after Christmas (remember, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”?) on January 6th and marks the traditional arrival of the three magi (Wise Men) at Jesus’ house in Bethlehem (not a manger).  The final day of celebration changes from year to year and is tied to the Jewish Passover, or Pesach.  While the Pesach always begins on the on the 15th day of the month of Nisan on the Jewish (lunar) calendar, this correlates with a variable time during March or April on the Gregorian (solar) calendar.  Do not even get me started on the 40 days.

When I looked online, I found the term Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday” and reflects the practice of the last night of eating rich, fatty foods before the ritual sacrifices and fasting of the Lenten season.  That meant all the meat, milk, and butter needed to be removed from the house.  Rather than throwing these valuable comedies away, people would cook slabs of meat (collops) and eggs on Monday and then pancakes on Tuesday.  The word Shrove became associated with the observance in England, and is derived from the word shrive, meaning “to administer the sacrament of confession to; or to absolve.”  Not surprising, this is also called Pancake Tuesday.

Several years ago, we checked off one of Melissa’s “bucket list” items when we attended the final weekend of Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  I had not paid much attention to the celebrations but was smart enough to purchase grandstand seating for several of the parades.  The scarcity of items thrown from the floats along most of the route was countered by the plentiful beads and medallions thrown as the krewes who sponsored the parade passed the grandstands.  The wild celebrations and costumes the celebration is known for abruptly end with the clearing of Bourbon Street at midnight on Tuesday night.  Rather than end, this seemed more like, “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”  When we walked the street the next morning the only others there were the crew hosing the sidewalks and sweeping the streets.

THOUGHTS:  After a year hiatus, the parades and celebrations of Mardi Gras returned to New Orleans this year.  One treat associated with Mardi Gras is the King cake.  King cakes can be found as “rosca de reyes” in many Spanish-speaking countries and “galette de rois” in France. This is a slightly sweet cinnamon bread decorated with purple, yellow, and green icing, and usually comes with a trinket hidden inside.  In the 1950’s, a New Orleans bakery popularized hiding a porcelain baby inside the cake, a practice that reportedly traces back to 18th-century France to supposedly represent Jesus.  Today, the plastic figurine is hidden inside the king cake, and the person who finds the baby in their slice is responsible for providing next year’s cake.  While we did not have king cake, we did have pancakes.  Hopefully we can venture out again.  Follow the science.  Do the work.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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