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Monday, March 3, 2014

WHAT IS MARDI GRAS?

Tomorrow is Mardi Gras, the French term for Fat Tuesday.  Why Fat and why Tuesday?  This mostly has to do with historic Christian ceremonies, recently enhanced by social and commercial interests.  Mardi Gras, as the day, is always on Shrove Tuesday, so everything peaks on this day, for the next, Ash Wednesday, is when Lent begins.  

As many of you can't understand without a scorecard:
  • Shrove Tuesday:  a day of self-examination, and last chance to indulge in fatty (why gras is used) foods because the next day begins 40 days of penitence...and yes, this is also known as Pancake Day because you shouldn't so indulge during Lent
  • Epiphany:  January 6, a feast day that celebrates the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God--some communities begin the whole period of Mardi Gras on this day, which, due to conflicts between the Gregorian and Julian calendars, could well be January 19
  • Ash Wednesday (March 5 this year and February 18 next year):  is Day 1 of Jesus' 40 days of fast in the desert, which always occurs 46 days before Easter, and can come as early as February 4 or as late as March 10 (some adherents place an ash cross on their forehead)
  • Lent:  the period of penitence when luxuries are avoided, from Ash Wednesday to Holy Thursday (day before Good Friday) or Easter (the length has become amorphous, for some denominations take Sundays off when luxuries like meat can be enjoyed)
I first learned about Mardi Gras when I was a college student, but only because of the movie Black Orpheus, which was produced in 1959 and gained a 91 Rotten Tomatoes reviewers' rating.  The music of the Rio Carnaval was intoxicating.  Much later I found myself at graduate school in Baton Rouge and was told that the Mardi Gras in News Orleans was dangerous.  The drunken revelry in the French Quarter was somewhat true, but the parades, which go on for two weeks, are held in town.  I still have some of those beads they tossed from the parade floats.  Today, this is mostly a popular family affair.

The Krewe (a social group that puts on a parade) of Bacchus parade is said to be the best, with 1000 members and 31 animated super-floats.  Bacchus is the Greek god of wine, and this year, Hugh Laurie of House was the lead.  Always now on Sunday, their parade through city ends up at the Convention Center, whre they have black-tie Rendezvous for 5,000.

The French Arcadians from Canada settling in Louisiana might have coined the term, Fat Tuesday, for Brazil speaks Portuguese and France is not particularly known for any major Mardi Gras celebrations.  In Louisiana, there is something called king cake parties, where served is a small plastic baby representing Jesus hidden inside this twisted cinnamon cake topped with gold (power), purple (justice) and green (faith) icing, the colors of the New Orleans Mardi Gras.  These colors were chosen to in 1872 honor the visiting Russian Grand Duke Alexis Romanov, whose house colors were gold, purple and green.  Yes, somewhat morbid, but whoever gets the tiny baby Jesus makes the cake next year.  

While certainly sounding apocryphal, it is said that LSU decided to choose purple and gold for its school colors because of a surplus of these colors after the Mardi Gras celebration one year.  At around the same time, the only color left was green, which was why Tulane is green and white.


Brazil, and Rio de Janeiro in particular, is today the showcase for Mardi Gras, although it is called Carnival or Carnaval there.  That's singer Kelly Key to the left.  The party in the city is continuous from Friday till sometime Wednesday morning.  I consider Rio, while somewhat unsafe, to be the most exciting in the world.  Muggings are a problem and I got a spider bite that almost incapacitated me.

Their featured parade is the exhibition of samba in the Sambadome, designed by Oscar Niemeyer and built in 1984, sitting 90,000 from 10PM for 12 hours or so on Sunday and Monday nights that week. Each selected samba school of thousands has 90 minutes to parade from one end to the other.  A scalped ticket to the best seats can cost $2500.  The winner is declared on Ash Wednesday, with the top five performing the following Saturday.  Sao Paulo has their version in the Sambodome, starting at 10PM and going on til 5AM, on Friday and Saturday nights.  I was tempted to, but chose not to show the photo that can found in:

     22 Things You Need To Know About Rio De Janeiro’s Carnival

This site ends with more than a hour of music from Carnival.  

While much of the Catholic world celebrates some form of Mardi Gras, on 16February2010 I unexpectedly found myself walking around in Munich and enjoyed a fascinating day which seemed to combine Mardi Gras with Halloween.  Fasching was a whole lot better than Octoberfest, with people drinking from whole bottles of wine on the street.  Being during the day, the whole event was completely safe.  I also had my best lunch ever (at that time).


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