February 19, 2013
My daughter and her family now live in Alabama, and we’ve discovered Mardi Gras is quite a big event there. They attend many parades and come home with multicolored beads, moon pies, and stuffed animals thrown to spectators from the floats. School is even dismissed for two days. Their dog, Penny, has her own Mardi Gras cape that she wears to the pet parade. I thought Mardi Gras was only celebrated in New Orleans. I discovered instead that it is celebrated in many countries around the world.
Mardi Gras dates back thousands of years to pagan celebrations of spring and fertility, including the Roman festivals of Saturnalia and Lupercalia. When Christianity arrived in Rome, religious leaders decided to incorporate these popular local traditions into the new faith. So the debauchery of the Mardi Gras season became a prelude to Lent, the 40 days of penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Mardi Gras and Christianity spread from Rome to other European countries, including France, Germany, Spain, and England. Traditionally, people would binge on all the meat, eggs, milk, and cheese in their homes, preparing for several weeks of eating only fish and fasting. In France, the day before Ash Wednesday came to be known as Mardi Gras or "Fat Tuesday."
Many historians believe that the first American Mardi Gras took place on March 3, 1699 when two French explorers landed in what is now Louisiana, just south of what is now New Orleans. They held a small celebration and dubbed the spot Point du Mardi Gras. The first recorded New Orleans Mardi Gras parade took place in 1837, and the tradition continues to this day. Lasting customs include throwing beads and other trinkets, wearing masks, decorating floats, and eating King Cake. Louisiana is the only state in which Mardi Gras is a legal holiday, but elaborate festivities draw crowds in other parts of the United States during this season, including Alabama and Mississippi.
Blue Springs South Branch