Monday, February 23, 2009

Happy Lundi Gras

Today is Lundi Gras (Fat Monday) - the day before Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), and two days before Ash Wednesday, the somber beginning of the penitential season of Lent.

Before the days of refrigeration, people had to use up all their fatty foods, like cream and meat, before Ash Wednesday - or else it would go bad and go to waste. So, Carnival (Latin: Carni vale, "farewell to meat") began as a pre-Lent last gasp of feast before the fast.

I think we in Louisiana have it just right.

Carnival, for us, involves family celebrations of parades, food, music, and fun. Salem Lutheran Church is having a Mardi Gras party tomorrow, as two krewes (private parade organizations) will parade right past our church. There will be marching bands, high steppers, jazz music, colorful floats with costumed and masked riders tossing out beads, stuffed animals, toys, candy, doubloons (colorful "coins"), plastic cups, and other "treasures." There will be families out and about with children running to and fro, laden with toys and beads.

To many outsiders, the image of New Orleans Carnival is not this local family celebration, but rather a more trashy display of reveling tourists on Bourbon Street. As one of my parishioners put it, some (certainly not all) tourists come from somewhere else, behave shamefully, and then go back home - leaving their reputation behind. But the reality is this: the tableau of drunken people exposing themselves can indeed be found, but it is confined to Bourbon Street, and once again, is really a tourist phenomenon. My aforementioned parishioner grew up in the French Quarter, and until recent years, even the Quarter's version of Carnival was squeaky clean family fun - as it still is in most of New Orleans and its environs.

But there does seem to be an "attitude of latitude" involved in Carnival. There is indeed a relativity to the intensity of the revelry in proportion to one's distance from the tropics.

While New Orleans Carnival seems exotic, if not downright decadent and weird, to our neighbors in the North, we're really pretty tame compared to Carnival near the equator, as in, say, Brazil - where samba teams compete with one another riding gargantuan floats, with riders decked out in a combination of elaborate feather costumes and full nudity. Actually, that's an exaggeration (let's be fair here). Carnival rules ban nudity, so the samba girls must at least wear a piece of tape. Last year, one of the contestants drew a penalty for losing her four-inch long, inch-and-a-half wide piece of tape. Oops! Not that the tape, or lack thereof, can really be seen from a distance anyway. This year, she apparently added body paintings of the President of the United States and of the President of Brazil in addition to her piece of tape - perhaps reflecting a more conservative trend in Sao Paulo's Carnival.

So you see, we're not really that crazy after all. Brazil's Carnival is way more wild than New Orleans's.

But by contrast, many churches in the Northern U.S. do mark the Mardi Gras with a Carnival of their own: a pancake breakfast on "Shrove Tuesday." That's it. A pancake breakfast (which would be what we in New Orleans would consider a Lenten meal - just kidding, but barely). Pancakes. Now, that's living on the edge. And I'm sure the really "wild and crazy" revelers liberally douse their flapjacks with a scandalous helping of maple syrup. Can you just stand the excitement?

I guess it's not a stretch to surmise that if four inches of skin is covered in Brazil, then it is likely that four inches of skin is actually exposed in the land of the midnight sun (or in the winter, the land where the sun doesn't shine, pun intended). I guess there is some method to the madness.

We New Orleanians really do cut a Goldilocks and the Three Bears kind of via media between the extremes of naked girls and pancakes. Surely, there must be a happy medium! I think we do a good job of finding it here.

So, you Yankees, why not turn off that YouTube of the (almost) naked Brazilian girls while you eat your pancakes, and instead, why not come on down to da Big Easy next year for a real Mardi Gras, Dawlin? Forget the pancakes, have a po-boy, gumbo, jambalaya, oysters, crabs, crawfish, or maybe even some alligator or raccoon. Join us for parades, music, and lots of good clean fun.

And leave that parka behind.

But if you really must go to Bourbon Street, make sure you wear a Michigan or Ohio State shirt while you're doing things you just wouldn't do in Lansing or Youngstown. Don't make us look bad, y'all. Either way, just make sure you spend lots of money. Hurricane Season is only four months away, and we got levees to build.

Meanwhile, Happy Carnival, and laissez les bons temps rouler!


Dan @ Necessary Roughness said...

Forget the pancakes, have a po-boy, gumbo, jambalaya, oysters, crabs, crawfish, or maybe even some alligator or racoon.

Po-boy? Check.
Gumbo? Check.
Jambalaya (pronounced jumbalaya in Lafayette) Check-check-check-check-check. Yum. Pass the Tabasco.
Crabs? Check.
Crawfish? Check.
Gator? Check.

Raccoon? I thought you guys were more Creole than Cajun over there? :)

pois de senteur said...

Our Lundi Gras celebration included Chicken and sausage gumbo and King Cake, right here Grafton WI. I might live up here, but my heart is down bayou...throw me something, Mistah!

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Dan:

Times are tough. Raccoon is cheap. Pass the Tabasco indeed! :-)

Father Hollywood said...

Chere Pois:

Now, how cool is that? You must be our Louisiana embassy.

I would be careful about doing the "Who Dat?" chant, as the Cheese Heads might be offended. Of course, Carnival is a time of sensitivity and political correctness, after all...

Blessed Mardi Gras to all a y'all!

revalkorn said...

I was talking to a fellow transplant pastor yesterday who attended his first Mardi Gras parade on Saturday (Molly attended her first on Sunday!), and he said, "I think I get it even less now than I did before."

I'm a Yankee transplant, but I'm not sure even Louisiana people understand what Carnival is--or rather, what it's supposed to be. But you don't need to be from the "deep South" or be a member of the Jefferson Davis fan club to realize that there's more to Mardi Gras than girls lifting their shirts for a string of beads, or that not all of Mardi Gras consists of that.

All that being said, I'll be very happy once Lent starts and seafood, which is already bountiful down here, becomes even more readily available.

Pr. H. R. said...

We let go of liquor for the priests' fast starting at Septuagesima....

Got Shriven last week with Fr. Kent Burreson. . .

Tonight we're scarfing down all the Buckeye bars and left over Valentine candy. . .

Tomorrow we're down to just a half-glass of 2 buck Chuck a day for heart heart and only grapefruits for snacks (thank you Aldi).


Do you have a copy of Weiser's Christians Feasts and Customs? If not - you simply must buy one. . .


Father Hollywood said...

Dear Al:

"Jefferson Davis fan club"

My admiration for Jeff Davis really soared when I read his magnum opus "Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government" as well as Burke Davis's (no relation) "The Long Surrender."

When President Davis died (in New Orleans), his funeral baffled northerners as it outdid Lincoln's numerically. He was originally buried in New Orleans, but was later moved to Hollywood (no relation) Cemetery in Richmond, VA.

There is a Jefferson Davis Parkway in NOLA, the Jefferson Davis Highway runs through LA, and we have a Jefferson Davis Parish in LA as well.

It's closed right now for renovations, but the Confederate Museum on Camp Street has the crown of thorns Pope Pius IX made by hand and was presented to President Davis while a POW after the War.

His two year captivity was similar in some ways to those held at GTMO - he was held under dubious military authority without charge (part of the time in solitary confinement, in shackles, and was denied sleep - until a doctor began to fear for his life), and on the advice of Chief Justice Salmon Chase, he was denied a trial (which he eagerly desired) for fear that he would not only exonerate himself, but in the process prove the legality of secession.

Davis's continued captivity was a PR nightmare for the U.S., and he was eventually released without being charged with anything.

He became known as the "Caged Eagle" and was far more popular as a former president than as a president. He was a leading apologist for secession and the tenth amendment (which is suddenly popular among conservatives again), and refused a pardon on the grounds that he did nothing wrong.

Jefferson Davis's birthday is a legal holiday in some states, being celebrated as Confederate Memorial Day.

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Heath:

I guess Pre-Lent is schizophrenic for other regions as well. We do the Gesimas, but they're more Peak-Carnival than Pre-Lent for us.

No, I don't have that book, but it sounds like a rip-roaring read.

Lutheran Lucciola said...

Yeah, I'm noticing the pancakes thing for the first time. I don't understand this personally, but then again it must be a midwestern thing that has come over here.

I gave up Mardi Gras around the time I gave up Cajun men. Many moon ago.

NYC area never gave too much about the holiday festivities.

Past Elder said...

Hey Lulu -- fancy meeting you here.

Nothing Midwestern about the pancakes at all. Centuries old -- it was a way of getting rid of eggs, sugar and other stuff that's either off the list or restricted during Lent.

It's an English thing. The day is sometimes called Pancake Day in fact. It's also called Shrove Tuesday among some unreconstructed traditional types such as, well, myself.

Shrove is the past tense of shrive, like wool off a sheep. What is shriven are sins, and it refers to the practice of private confession just before Lent begins.

We English actually have pancake races on this day. Supposedly it began with a woman who once was making her pancakes, lost track of time and raced to church for services still flipping her pancakes in the pan. So now there's races while flipping pancakes. Not exactly a NOLA event, but hey, we're English. Maybe naked pancake races would catch on there.

Judas H at IHOP, I should have blogged on this.

Anonymous said...

Pancakes? Pancakes? Well, in deference to my husband's Polish-American heritage we stuffed ourselves senseless with those wonderful Polish delights known as
pączki the weekend before before Ash Wednesday (made at a delightful little family-owned Italian bakery!).

My beloved Lutheran grandmother (living in East Prussia close to the Polish border) made the German version in Faschingskrapfen.

But hey, thanks be to God, I'm back in the LCMS and all things are lawful to me so bring it all on, pancakes, pączki and Mardi Gras (er, with the exception of the raccoon, please -- sorry Father Hollywood, I can't go there!)

Past Elder said...

Gibt es Faschingskrapfenrennen?

CyberSis said...

"laissez les bons temps rouler!"

I love this expression but haven't a clue about how to pronounce it. Could you be so kind as to provide a phonetic pronunciation for the French-impaired among us?

Rosko said...

"laissez les bons temps rouler!"

I love this expression but haven't a clue about how to pronounce it. Could you be so kind as to provide a phonetic pronunciation for the French-impaired among us?

The easiest way is "Lay-say lay bon tom roo-lay" but keep the 'ay' sounds short.

Here's a video:

Anonymous said...

Gibt es Faschingskrapfenrennen?

Aber ja, warum nicht???

CyberSis said...


Sorry it's taken so long to get back to you ... been swamped.

I wanted to thank you for the pronunciation guide and the great YouTube! By George, I think I finally got it by the end of the video! :-)