Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Happy Mardi Gras, y'all!

A Blessed Mardi Gras to all Christians - whether or not y'all are in a position to celebrate this Christian holiday!

"Fat Tuesday" is the last day of feasting before Ash Wednesday. It is the pinnacle of the Carnival season (from the Latin for "Farewell to the Flesh" - referring to the preparation for Lenten fasting). Carnival begins on Epiphany (January 6) and concludes at midnight at the end of Mardi Gras.

This Mardi Gras has been very encouraging to New Orleanians. The numbers of people in the streets are way up over last year (though still below pre-Katrina levels). Contrary to what a lot of people believe, with the exception of the revelry in the French Quarter (which actually doesn't have any parades at all), Mardi Gras parades are family events, with children perched atop ladders (or in my case, Lion-Boy straddled across my now-aching shoulders) with hands extended crying: "Throw me somthin' mistah!" in expectation of being showered with beads, plastics cups, coins (not legal tender, of course), stuffed animals, and (most coveted by Leo) footballs. There are floats, marching bands, horseback riders, dancers, jazz bands, and lots of people in costume. Here's an article that sums it up nicely.

To say Mardi Gras is a big deal in New Orleans would be a classic understatement!

There are also a lot of ancient customs and pageantry that are very dear to New Orleanians. Kings and Queens are crowned (with the newspaper covering these events scrupulously). There are masquerade balls and fancy black-tie and gown affairs at a fevered pitch. Newscasters, some covered with beads and silly costumes are on the streets covering the action and joining in the celebrations. The front page of the newspaper is dominated by the likenesses of the newly-elected King and Queen of Carnival.

Needless to say, New Orleans and the surrounding areas completely shut down. In fact, most schools (ours included) are closed for the entire week.

In the typical hustle-bustle cookie-cutter American lifestyle in which people are overworked, overstressed, and lacking cultural cohesion, Carnival and Mardi Gras are a true blessing. The daily grind is temporarily halted. The crime rate (which has been dreadful in New Orleans) actually drops during the period leading up to Mardi Gras. Thousands of total strangers eat and drink together, children play together, people sing and dance in the streets, and share this common time of joy we have together. Smiles are everywhere.

It is fitting that we enjoy God's good creation in the time of this Christian festival, for the contrast makes for a more stark observance of Ash Wednesday and Lent. At precisely midnight tonight, the police will clear the streets in the French Quarter, and Carnival will abruptly end.

New Orleanians will be seen tomorrow with ashes on their foreheads. Fish will be served on Fridays in many establishments over the next six weeks. Churches will have special midweek services. The usual joie-de-vivre of New Orleans will be muted for these 40 days (Sundays excepted, of course), until our joy returns with the celebration of the Festival of our Lord's Resurrection.

Carnival provides New Orleanians with the opportunity to make distinctions in time according to the ancient rhythm of the church year. It is a shame that it is not observed everywhere. Perhaps liturgical Christian churches around the United States might start introducing "Fat Tuesday" as local Christian celebrations, along with emphasizing fasting and repentence during Lent.
But I'm getting ahead of myself! We still have nearly two more hours of Carnival and Mardi Gras left! I've posted some pictures of the parades that went by Salem Lutheran Church here, here, here, and here.
Laissez les bons temps rouler, mes chers!

1 comment:

Peter said...

Wonderful pictures! For a number of years, we've held a Mardi Gras party, but this year, alas, we shirked our duty. I'm hungry for Red Beans and Rice, Po Boys, washed down with a Hurricane just thinking of you. And, now you have Lent to recover.

As an addition, you may want to consider adding Dyngus Day to your celebrations (that is our current big party). It comes on Easter Monday, and serves as the bookend to Mardi Gras.

God bless New Orleans!