Festive Mardi Gras


        Many people think of bright, metallic, colorful outfits complete with masks and bead necklaces when Mardi Gras comes around.  However, what is the origin or meaning of such a festive day?  And what makes it so fun that everyone joins in on this special day?  Let’s see!  Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday”.  With a name like this for a holiday, one would definitely assume food is involved, which is absolutely true.   The word came from the practice of slaughtering and feasting on a fat cow after the Epiphany or Kings Day, the last day for enjoying fatty, rich foods before fasting. 

This tradition was first celebrated in Europe to enjoy the last day of delicious food before the fasting of the Lenten season which begins on a Wednesday morning.  Mardi Gras celebration begins on a Tuesday, with the whole day filled with food, fun, and games.  The festive holiday falls on Tuesday, March 4th this year.

Mardi Gras was first celebrated in Catholic cultures as carnivals, and as early as the second century by Romans.  Other than the purpose of eating delicious food before fasting, some believed that this holiday was celebrated to represent the last few days left in the lunar calendar before the solar calendar comes into effect.  Others see it as a festival to welcome the lovely spring.

Around the world, many places celebrate this holiday today including Europe; Latin America;  Rio de Janerio, Brazil;(see a recent blog posted on how some Latin American countries celebrate https://www.funwithforeignlanguage.com/carnaval-in-latin-america/) Nice, France; Cologne, Germany; Rio de Janerio, Brazil; and in New Orleans, U.S.   Mardi Gras was first celebrated in New Orleans, Louisiana as early as 1742!  It started out as a small scale celebration in the U.S. until the governor of New Orleans decided to do a grand Mardi Gras parade in 1837.  Since then, the holiday celebrations continued to grow larger and better in New Orleans and have also made its way into other big states in the U.S.

One of the symbolic foods offered on this celebration is the King Cakes.  King Cakes are made from sweet dough cake covered in yellow, purple, green, and white icing.  Inside one of the cakes would have a small toy or token, and whoever is lucky enough to have chosen this one would become the King of the day!  Besides enjoying the title for the day and wearing a gold crown replica, this “King” is responsible for making the King Cakes for everyone in next year’s celebration.

Besides food, the bright colors are also symbolic for this fun filled carnival day.  During the celebrations and parades, costumes, masks, and jewelries are mostly made up of colors that include yellow, purple, and green.  Behind each color has a meaning, yellow represents power, purple symbolizes justice, and green signifies faith.  Which one would you choose to wear?

In addition to eating tasty food and dressing up in wild-colored outfits, there are also numerous great events to watch on this day.  Floats parade down the streets of New Orleans decked out with the three important colors mentioned above.  On these floats are performers tossing beaded necklaces and fake doubloons, which are gold coins, into the excited crowd.  The purpose of giving out fake doubloons is a way to show gratitude to the Europeans for the start of Mardi Gras celebrations that eventually spread into the U.S. and around the world.

Each year, people are coming together for in this grand celebration around certain parts of the globe.  In the midst of food, fun, and games we get to enjoy the traditions passed down from the Europeans.  This gives us another holiday to celebrate with our family and friends.  As we celebrate together, let’s not forget the origin of this festive day.

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Submitted by Irene Lam

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