Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Fat Tuesday (aka Mardi Gras)

You knew it was coming, didn't you? I started it with Groundhogs Day, so now people expect it. This is it; Kemp's Official Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras Primer...

  • That the name Fat Tuesday comes from the French Words ‘Gras’ (pronounced ‘graw’) and ‘Mardi’… Mardi Gras… ah! 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) on the last day of Carniva


What is less known about Mardi Gras is its relation to the Christmas season, through the ordinary-time interlude known in many Catholic cultures as Carnival (Carnival comes from the Latin words carne vale, meaning “farewell to the flesh.”)

Like many Catholic holidays and seasonal celebrations, it likely has its roots in pre-Christian traditions based on the seasons. Some believe the festival represented the few days added to the lunar calendar to make it coincide with the solar calendar; since these days were outside the calendar, rules and customs were not obeyed. Others see it as a late-winter celebration designed to welcome the coming spring. As early as the middle of the second century, the Romans observed a Fast of 40 Days, which was preceded by a brief season of feasting, costumes and merrymaking.

There are well-known season-long Carnival celebrations in Europe and Latin America, including Nice, France; Cologne, Germany; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The best-known celebration in the U.S. is in New Orleans and the French-Catholic communities of the Gulf Coast. Mardi Gras came to the New World in 1699, when a French explorer arrived at the Mississippi River, about 60 miles south of present day New Orleans. He named the spot Point du Mardi Gras because he knew the holiday was being celebrated in his native country that day.


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

Gratuitous Fat Tuesday picture (Ask me how hard it was to find a Fat Tuesday image that didn't involve naked people)

Mental iPod Song of the Day - FAT TUESDAY EDITION

Talk about karma.

On today, one of New Orleans busiest days of the year (even this year, a scant 6 months after the horror that was Hurricane Katrina and disaster 'Brownie') as I was driving into work and, coincidentally, going over the train tracks in Kankakee, my iPod shuffled itself onto “City of New Orleans” by Arlo Guthrie. I am not making this up, the second song it went to. So, to keep all of you satisfied for me (mind out of gutters people) until I post my Official Fat Tuesday offering, I present to you today’s Mental iPod Song of the Day: "City of New Orleans"

Riding on the City of New Orleans,
Illinois Central Monday morning rail
Fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders,
Three conductors and twenty-five sacks of mail.

All along the southbound odyssey
The train pulls out at Kankakee
Rolls along past houses, farms and fields.
Passin' trains that have no names,
Freight yards full of old black men
And the graveyards of the rusted automobiles.

Good morning America how are you?
Don't you know me I'm your native son,
I'm the train they call The City of New Orleans,
I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.

Dealin' card games with the old men in the club car.
Penny a point ain't no one keepin' score.
Pass the paper bag that holds the bottle
Feel the wheels rumblin' 'neath the floor.
And the sons of Pullman porters
And the sons of engineers
Ride their father's magic carpets made of steel.
Mothers with their babes asleep,
Are rockin' to the gentle beat
And the rhythm of the rails is all they feel.


Nighttime on The City of New Orleans,
Changing cars in Memphis, Tennessee.
Half way home, we'll be there by morning
Through the Mississippi darkness
Rolling down to the sea.
And all the towns and people seem
To fade into a bad dream
And the steel rails still ain't heard the news.
The conductor sings his song again,
The passengers will please refrain
This train's got the disappearing railroad blues.

Good night, America, how are you?
Don't you know me I'm your native son,
I'm the train they call The City of New Orleans,
I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.