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Mardi Gras and Lent

I guess we can chalk up yet another thing that the global pandemic has ruined. #ThanksCOVID. Mardi Gras in New Orleans typically means dancing in the streets, standing shoulder to shoulder with strangers, and watching one parade after another roll by while slowly becoming a human bead tree. But Mardi Gras 2021 will be different.

I guess we can chalk up yet another thing that the global pandemic has ruined. #ThanksCOVID.

Mardi Gras in New Orleans typically means dancing in the streets, standing shoulder to shoulder with strangers, and watching one parade after another roll by while slowly becoming a human bead tree. But Mardi Gras 2021 will be different.

Obviously, there were no parades and debauchery, but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about the history of Mardi Gras and the Lenten season. But before we get to that, if you haven’t seen them yet, please take a minute to look up all the people who decorated their homes along parade routes in New Orleans to look like parade floats. They are beautiful, and there is no denying the ingenuity of people in times of need.

Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday, referring to the practice of the last night of eating more decadent, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, which begins on Ash Wednesday. This year that’s February 17th.

According to mardigrasnewsorleans.com, the origins of Mardi Gras can be traced as far back as medieval Europe, passing through Rome and Venice in the 17th and 18th centuries to the French House of the Bourbons. From here, the traditional revelry of “Boeuf Gras,” or fatted calf, followed France to her colonies.

On March 2, 1699, French-Canadian explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville arrived at a plot of ground 60 miles directly south of New Orleans and named it “Pointe du Mardi Gras” when his men realized it was the eve of the festive holiday. In 1703, Fort Louis de la Mobile’s tiny settlement celebrated America’s very first Mardi Gras.

By the late 1830s, New Orleans held street processions of maskers with carriages and horseback riders to celebrate Mardi Gras. Dazzling gaslight torches, or “flambeaux,” lit the way for the ‘krewe’s’ members and added to the festivity. Krewes are the people who put parades and activities together during Mardi Gras.

The tradition of throwing beads and other trinkets, known as ‘throws,’ during Mardi Gras parades was established in 1870 by Mardi Gras krewe the Twelfth Night Revelers.

All that purple, green, and gold you see during Mardi Gras? Yep, that has meaning too! Purple is for justice; gold is for power, and green is for faith. The Grand Duke of Russia chose these in 1857.

Since then, Mardi Gras parties have gotten bigger and better, with much decadence ensuing. But even in New Orleans, the party must end, and tradition must follow. Mardi Gras parties end promptly at midnight, and revelers are shuffled off the streets when Ash Wednesday begins.

Mardi Gras is a long-standing tradition of the Catholic Church, and it marks the last day of ordinary time before the start of Lent, a time of fasting and repentance.

As Catholic Christianity spread throughout Europe during the first millennium, different cultures celebrated the last day before Lent in their own ways, adapting the practices to suit their cultures. In France, the holiday became particularly popular as people feasted on foods that would be given up during the forty days of Lent. Meats, eggs, and milk were finished off in one day.

Now that you and I both know a little more about Mardi Gras’ history let’s ask the real question. Why do Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday, and Easter fall on different dates each year?

To calculate the date for Mardi Gras, we must first figure out when Easter is. Easter will always fall on the first Sunday following the full moon that falls on or after the spring equinox — got that? So this year, the vernal equinox is March 20th. The first full moon to follow is on March 28th. Therefore, Easter will fall the following Sunday — April 4th. With me so far? Now that we have Easter, we now count back 47 days. That’s 40 days and 40 nights, not counting Sundays. You have officially found Ash Wednesday. Of course, we know, Mardi Gras — or Fat Tuesday — is the day before Ash Wednesday! Now, go ahead and figure out when Mardi Gras will be next year — I’ll wait.

Now we all know everything we need to about Mardi Gras and Lent. Hopefully, next year, we’ll be able to celebrate more traditionally.

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