This year, February brings us back-to-back reasons to celebrate. Valentine’s Day is on February 14th, of course. But did you know Mardi Gras falls on Tuesday, February 13th? Mardi Gras, or "Fat Tuesday," is the last day of the Carnival season, a last hurrah before Lent begins. The history of Mardi Gras is long and fascinating and despite its association with New Orleans, you’ll find some places to celebrate here in Southern Indiana as well.
Carnival is celebrated in numerous countries around the world. These celebrations trace their roots to Roman festivals, which were then incorporated into Christianity as the religion spread. The Carnivals, with their parties and spirit of indulgence, became the prelude to Lent and the period of fasting and penance leading up to Easter.
The first American Mardi Gras dates to 1699, when French Canadian explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville landed in present day Mobile, Alabama, and hosted a small party to mark his arrival. In subsequent years, New Orleans (established in 1718) began holding parties to celebrate Mardi Gras in the new world. Though the celebrations were banned while the city of was under Spanish control, they remerged in the early 1800s in full force.
The first Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans was held in the 1830s, around the same time that “Krewes” came into existence. Krewes, or secret societies, construct floats for parades and organize balls during the celebration. Each Krewe has its own history and theme. The Krewe of Rex, for example, was founded in 1872 and chooses the King of Carnival every year. They were also responsible for determining the official colors of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras…purple, green, and gold.
In 1875, the Governor of Louisiana signed the Mardi Gras Act, designating Fat Tuesday as a legal holiday (it is still too, making it the only state in the U.S. that observes Mardi Gras as an official holiday). New Orleans is the place to be in the United States for those looking to celebrate Mardi Gras. Over a million people descend on the city to take part in the revelry.
Other states, including Alabama and Florida, host large Mardi Gras celebrations. And other countries around the world hold pre-Lenten celebrations or carnivals, particularly those with large Roman Catholic populations. Carnival in Rio de Janiero is considered the largest in the world, attracting millions of visitors every day.
While traveling to Brazil, or Italy, or New Orleans sounds pretty amazing, there are ways to celebrate Mardi Gras that don’t require a plane ticket and extended travel plans.
Franklin Street, in nearby Evansville, Indiana, hosts many Mardi Gras activities. The Gumbo Cookoff launches the celebration, which also includes the Franklin Street Crawl and a Mardi Gras parade. Bars and restaurants in Louisville, Kentucky, such as Howl at the Moon, will have Mardi Gras parties on Tuesday, 2/13.
However, you might consider just hosting a Mardi Gras party in the comfort of your own home. You’ll just need a few simple items…
· Plenty of green, gold, and purple décor. Streamers, balloons, and beads of course!
· Mardi Gras masks, a tradition in New Orleans for hundreds of years. These masks add some fun and mystery to the party and can be made or ordered online.
· Lots of tasty food with classic creole and Cajun flavors. Jambalaya, red beans and rice, gumbo, and seafood dishes like crawfish etouffee are all great options. Hungry yet? More great recipes can be found at Southern Living - https://www.southernliving.com/food/holidays-occasions/new-orleans-mardi-gras-recipes
· A King Cake is an absolute requirement. These delicious, doughy cakes tend to be circular and braided, then fried and glazed in Mardi Gras colors. A baby figurine (representing the baby Jesus) is tucked inside the cake. Tradition holds that whomever gets the baby must host the next party.
We hope you have a festive celebration planned for Mardi Gras and enjoy the company of good friends and delicious food. If you decide to throw your own party in one of the beautiful homes of Christmas Lake Village or surrounding area, let us know! We might stop by for a slice of that cake. As they say in New Orleans… Let the Good Times Roll!
For more information on the traditions and history of Mardi Gras, or to plan your visit to the city of New Orleans, visit http://www.mardigrasneworleans.com/.