I wrote a post last year explaining Fat Tuesday, you can read it HERE. Or you can read the new and improved version with over 30% new material below… it’s guaranteed* to impress…
*not a real guarantee
- That the name Fat Tuesday comes from the French Words ‘Gras’ (pronounced ‘graw’) and ‘Mardi’… Mardi Gras… aha! The light bulbs come on
- That Mardi Gras is a legal holiday in New Orleans
- That the oldest Mardi Gras celebration in the United States is in Mobile, Alabama. Their celebrations date back to 1703.
- That the official colors of Mardi Gras (purple which is a symbol of justice; green which represents faith; and gold which signifies power) have their roots in Catholicism.
- The name Fat Tuesday comes from the tradition of slaughtering and feasting upon a fattened calf (The veal wasn’t butchered though, it died of loneliness--- my kingdom for a rimshot) on the last day of Carnivale.
In England, today is known as Shrove Tuesday, derived from the word “Shrive”, which is an old English word for having your sins forgiven. People would get ready for Lent by going to Confession and by asking forgiveness of one another. Then they would keep the disciplines of Lent (prayer, fasting and almsgiving) as their penance.
That’s the serious side of Shrovetide, but another task during Carnival was the “eating-up” of Lent’s forbidden foods, and for over a thousand years, most Christians kept Lent by not eating animal products, a practice that probably began out of necessity.
At Carnival all meat, butter, cheese and eggs got used up in one final feast before the Lenten fast. Making pancakes and doughnuts uses up a lot of these ingredients. Russians call the days before Lent “Butter Week.” In some countries, the last day before Lent is called Doughnut Day or Pancake Day. The Irish call it “Ash Eve.” The French call it “Mardi Gras” which means “Fat Tuesday.”
In Venice, at midnight on Ash Wednesday Eve, a straw figure named “Carnivale,” whose body has been stuffed with fireworks, is burned in a fire in St. Mark’s Square. In some places last year’s Palm Sunday branches are burned with an effigy of old man winter, and so Lent’s ashes get made at the same time that winter “burns up.”
Mardi Gras came to New Orleans through its French heritage in 1699. Early explorers celebrated this French holiday on the banks of the Mississippi River. Throughout the years, Orleanians have added to the celebration by establishing krewes (organizations) which host parades and balls. Carnival quickly became an exciting holiday for both children and adults.
Parades are put on by carnival krewes (or organizations). Every year, each krewe picks a king and a queen who reign for that parade. The floats are decorated to depict different themes. The floats are pulled by tractors. Most parades have at least 15 floats. People who belong to the krewe ride on the floats. They throw beads, doubloons, cups, and trinkets to the crowd. Following the parade, the krewe usually has a ball presenting their king and queen, and their royal court. The royal court includes maids, dukes, pages, captains, and jesters.
Since the Mardi Gras season begins with the celebration of Epiphany, the visit of the “Three Kings” to the Baby Jesus, it is a tradition of the celebrations to bake an oval cake in honor of the three kings - the King Cake. The shape of a King Cake symbolizes the unity of faiths. Each cake is decorated in the traditional Mardi Gras colors: purple represents justice, green represents faith and gold represents power. A small baby, symbolizing the baby Jesus, is baked into each cake. In New Orleans, King Cake parties are held throughout the Mardi Gras season. In offices, classrooms, and homes throughout the city, King Cakes are sliced and enjoyed by all. Like the biblical story, the "search for the baby" adds excitement, as each person waits to see in whose slice of cake the baby will be discovered. While custom holds that the person who finds the baby in their slice will be rewarded with good luck, that person is also traditionally responsible for bringing the King Cake to the next party or gathering.
Paczki (punch-key) Day is the feast of plenty before the Lenten fast begins. It is the last day of gaiety in Karnawal time, the period between Christmas and Lent. This is the time for sleigh parties called Kulig. To mark the last moments of excess before the austerity of Lenten sacrifice, Polish Roman Catholics celebrate Paczki Day.
On this day the traditional deep fried pastries (something like jelly doughnuts) are enjoyed throughout the world's Polonias (Polish immigrant communities). This joyous activity precedes the Gorzkie Zale (lamentation services) of Lent in Polonian churches. In Poland, Paczki Day takes place the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, called Tlusty Czwartek (Fat Thursday). Long lines form in front of the bakeries in Polonia, and millions of Paczki are sold.
MARDI GRAS IN NOLA
Secret societies, known as krewes, arrange and finance all the Mardi Gras activities in New Orleans, with the oldest krewe being Comus, which made its first appearance in 1857. A different krewe holds a parade on each night during the two weeks leading up to Lent. The krewes also hold masked balls at which the king and queen of the krewe are presented to the society.Eventually the French in New Orleans celebrated Mardi Gras with masked balls and parties… at least until the Spanish government took over in the mid-1700s and banned the celebrations (sorry, our bad).This ban continued even after the U.S. government acquired the land but started-up again in 1827.While Mardi Gras (or Fat Tuesday) has grown in popularity in recent years as a hedonistic and alcohol-swilling event, its roots lie in the Christian calendar.The whole season kicks off with the Epiphany (also known as Twelfth Night, Three Kings' Day and in some Eastern churches Theophany), which falls on January 6 – 12 days after Christmas. That day celebrates the visit of the Wise Men bearing gifts for the infant Jesus.What’s the purpose of King's Cake? Well, legend has it that the cakes were made in a circle to represent the circular routes that the Wise Men took to find Jesus, in order to confuse King Herod and foil his plans of killing the Christ Child. In the early days, a coin or bean was hidden inside the cake, and whoever found the item was said to have good luck in the coming year. In Louisiana, bakers now put a small baby, representing the Christ Child, in the cake; the recipient is then expected to host the next King Cake party. (How would you like to miss that and explain to the ER doctor: ‘Well, doc, I was eating a piece of cake when a baby got lodged in my throat.’)
Kemp’s Top Ten Movies Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras Movies
...that have Mardi Gras as a central theme… or even a passing theme… or a naked women theme… or really, have nothing to do with Mardi Gras other than being set in New Orleans because there are not, quite frankly, enough movies about Mardi Gras to do an actual Top Ten Mardi Gras movies list.
10. Zombie vs Mardi Gras 9. Mardi Gras Massacre 8. Piano Players Rarely Play Together 7. Mardi Gras 6. Night Trap (aka Mardi Gras for the Devil) 5. Playboy: Girls of Mardi Gras 4. Mardi Gras: Made in China 3. Girls Gone Wild: Mardi Gras 2. Easy Rider 1. Hard Target