Fat Tuesday, krewes, Carnival, and shrimp jambalaya

2009-10-28_0000092.JPGFat Tuesday, krewes, Carnival, and shrimp jambalaya?!  You might be wondering: How did Tuesday get picked as the chubby day of the week?  Are they serving shrimp jambalaya at a carnival somewhere?  Does she know how to spell–the only “crew” I know of starts with a “c” and the plural form does not require an “es.”

I promise you that these phrases are all interrelated and pertinent to today’s topic—Mardi Gras!

Mardi Gras has its roots in celebrations that originated thousands of years ago at the time of pagan spring and fertility rites, such as the Roman festival of Saturnalia and Lupercalia. When Christianity came onto the scene, Roman religious leaders decided to incorporate the new faith into the local rituals and the tradition of Mardi Gras, or Carnival, before Lent each year began.  


Carnival,” like “Mardi Gras,” is a term used in reference to pre-Lent
festivities; it may come from the Medieval Latin word, carnelevarium,
which means “to take away or remove meat” (traditionally, Christians
abstained from eating meat during the 40 days of Lent).  “Mardi Gras” is
French for Fat Tuesday, which explains the first phrase in the title of
this blog post.  The difference between Mardi Gras and Carnival, in
name at least, is that Mardi Gras refers specifically to “Fat Tuesday,”
in contrast to Carnival which describes all pre-Lent activities between
January 6 and midnight on Fat Tuesday.  However, despite the literal
translation of Mardi Gras meaning Fat Tuesday, these days Mardi Gras
usually also refers to all celebratory events leading up to Lent. 
Mardi Gras  and Carnival are celebrated in many countries throughout the
world, particularly among populations that are predominantly Roman
Catholic.  

2010-07-15_0875927.JPGMardi Gras the New Orleans way

I know what you are thinking when you hear the phrase Mardi Gras: New
Orleans, King Cake, jambalaya, beads, parades etc. For those readers who
are not well-versed in Mardi Gras terminology, I will enlighten you
with a few more words that are likely to come up while celebrating
Carnival: first of all, King Cake, for those who don’t know, is a round
pastry containing a plastic doll.  The person who discovers the doll in
their pastry is crowned “king” and buys the next round of cakes or
throws the next party. Krewe (yes it is pronounced the same as crew even
though it is spelled differently) refers to the organizations that
participate in Carnival in New Orleans.  Historically, an organization
had to put on a parade or ball during for the Carnival season to be
considered a krewe, but as time has passed the term has grown to include
any Carnival organization.

Mardi Gras internationally

Mardi Gras celebrations vary in content depending on where the party is
located.  In Canada, a giant Quebec Winter Carnival is held in Quebec
City. Masquerade balls are the fashion in Italy where Venice’s Carnevale
dates back to the 13th Century.  Brazilian Carnival festivities last a
week and include a mix of European, African, and native traditions.  One
of the most far-out traditions I encountered was Denmark’s Fastelavn
version of Mardi Gras.  Children dress up and collect candy as if it
were Halloween but then get to “flog” their parents on Easter Sunday
morning as part of the ritual.  Interesting… I wonder who came up with
that tradition.

Mardi Gras is much more than a huge party revolving around beads, balls,
and parades.  Culture, location, people, religion, and even economics
come into play where this holiday is concerned.  What do you do to
celebrate Mardi Gras?  How does where you live affect the way you
celebrate? Happy Fat Tuesday!

Becky for My Wonderful World

Photos courtesy of My Shot Your Shot:
Carol Jankuv, Mardi Gras display

Diana Szpotowic, Marching band in the streets of New Orleans

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