Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, which is logically celebrated in many places on a Saturday, is a day most people would associate with purple, green, and gold beaded necklaces flying out of windows and drunk people (and the remnants of their partying) littering the crowded streets. Yet watching these hooligans partaking in reckless behavior, you'd never know that there's actually a significance for this day of revelry. Here's a Q&A from me to me.
Q: Why the hell is there a holiday called Fat Tuesday?
A: Why not? But actually, though, Mardi Gras (translated from Fat Tuesday in French), marks the end of Carnival season and is the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. It is a day of which people party and pig out, a final hurrah before Ash Wednesday and Lent, during which they give up something. Mardi Gras originates from pagan celebrations of fertility and spring thousands of years ago, especially in Ancient Roman customs such as Saturnalia.
Q: What's up with the gold, purple, and green?
A: The New Orleans Krewe of Rex (NOLA Mardi-planning kings) chose the official color palette in the late-1800s. Gold symbolizes power, purple symbolizes justice, and green symbolizes faith.
Q: What is King Cake and why are there babies in it?
A: Okay, not real babies. This cake is family-friendly. According to the trusty Wikipedia, the oval-shaped, filled pastry is reminiscent of the biblical kings. The plastic baby (or another trinket) inside of it is a symbol of Jesus Christ, and of the kings supposedly bringing him gifts upon his birth. Christian customs state that on the “Twelfth Night”, or “Epiphany”, Jesus showed himself to the three wise men and the world. Whoever gets the slice of cake with the baby in it becomes “king” for a day and hosts the following year’s King Cake party.
Q: Okay, so how did we get to NOLA? And why is it so big there?
A: When French explorers came to the US in 1699, they established the spot Point du Mardi Gras in modern day NOLA and had a feast on Mardi Gras. Though Spanish conquerors banned rowdy Mardi Gras celebrations such as street and costume parties in 1812, a group of Paris-visiting, uber-ambitious students brought it back in 1827. In the years that followed, parades, marching bands, and projectile trinkets joined in the celebration.
Q: Is Mardi Gras legal?
A: Yup! It’s only a legal holiday in Louisiana, though. Alaska tried to make it a legal holiday, but the illustrious Sarah Palin immediately rejected the idea. No projectile trinkets for her, okay?!?
Q: Why the masks?
A: “But really, I've got nothing to hide!” The crowd drowns out my scream. In all seriousness, however, Mardi Gras is about having a great time regardless of the identities of the people around you. Masks were initially worn by people to escape societal constraints, and today they contribute to the mystery, excitement, and sheer insanity of Mardi Gras. Interestingly enough, float riders are actually legally required to wear masks!
Q: And what’s with those crazy costumes?
A: It’s all part of the fun! And it’s extra fun for Party City, which is currently rolling in the dough.
Q: Are drag queen races a required element of Mardi Gras?
A: Nah, but they sure make it interesting!
Q: Is that all, self?
A: Nope! It turns out that Mardi Gras is also known as “Pancake Day” and includes a celebration with pancakes and pancake themed activities in England, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and good ol’ Canada. I’ll bet iHOP does well…
Now please excuse me while I weep for the car that almost ran over my friends and me, the garbage that lined the streets of Soulard (in STL, MO), and the iHOP I’m now craving. And get your masks ready for February 13, 2018, when the festivities will commence again.