Good day my fellow Fledglings. Today is Ash Wednesday. I’d like to share something new I learned this week. You see Mardi Gras is not a celebration of getting drunk and lifting shirts to receive beads, something the media sensationalizes and what I had come to believe Mardi Gras was. Mardi Gras is the celebration that starts on the day of Epiphany (a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God incarnate as Jesus Christ) which ends over a month later with a celebration of eating rich fatty foods the night before Ash Wednesday (Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday).
Basically, Mardi Gras is the celebration right before Lent, symbolizing when Jesus fasted for forty days in the desert. Nothing to do with boobs and beads.
Who would have thunk, huh?
So today’s share day is to learn a little bit about this family tradition. Yes, I did say family.
As I learned during this year’s modified celebration, Mardi Gras is celebrated from January 6th to Mardi Gras Day (Fat Tuesday). The locals call the season “Carnival” and the last two weekends leading up to Tuesday the rest of the world knows as “Mardi Gras”. These last two weekends have evolved into an excuse for adults and kids to dress up, don masks, and parade through the city. I had thought there was only one or two parades during this time.
Before I continue I really do need to make a disclaimer. Especially to all the beautiful New Orleanians and those who have much more experience about this amazing event and the history behind it. You see, I’m an outsider. I mean, I’m not even a transplant (someone who isn’t born in New Orleans, which I learned is also a thing). I just have been immersed into learning about Mardi Gras in 2021 when it was pretty much canceled. Other than the Krewe of House Floats (which I’ll discuss later), King Cakes, and tossing throws meant staying masked and walking up to the open window of a car and handing them inside, I have no idea what Mardi Gras was other than what I learned from others and my own research. Please don’t hold me accountable if I misrepresent anything, actually miss really important parts (hey, that’s what the comments are for!), or sound clueless.
Actually, when it comes to Mardi Gras, I am pretty clueless. LOL!
Let’s start with a Krewe. A Krewe is an organization that puts on a parade or a ball for the Mardi Gras season. There are over 50 different Krewes in New Orleans and the number just keeps on growing. Each Krewe has a unique history and theme. The oldest Krewe is Mistick Krewe of Comus, founded in 1856. While this Krewe withdrew from parading in 1991, they still hold an annual ball on Mardi Gras night. I was unaware that the Mardi Gras tradition goes that far back (Ummm…I learned later, it goes much farther back than 1856 – insert smack of the head emoji. I mean I did say I was clueless).
2018 Krewe of Baccus Parade
~ just a taste of one of the many, many different Krewe parades in Mardi Gras
The Mardi Gras Indians is another Krewe, yet encompasses over 40 different tribes, each with their own history and traditions. This subculture of New Orleans also dates back to the the 1800’s where Native Americans helped shield runaway slaves. It’s influenced by both enslaved Africans and the friendship bonds with Native Americans. So cool! And part of their annual tradition is to spend an entire year creating hand-sewn beaded suits that are only worn once when they gather together to parade. Their parade dates, times, and routes are never published in advance.
“One Bead at a Time” – Mardi Gras Indians Sew
The History of the Mardi Gras Indians
~ WDSU News
For further information about the various Krewes check out these websites (if only to see the pictures!):
- Mardi Gras New Orleans – Parades/Krewes
- Mardi Gras Krewe History
- History of All Female Krewes
- Mardi Gras Krewes
- The Definite Guide to the Krewes of Mardi Gras
The Colors of Mardi Gras
One of the things I noticed most about Mardi Gras was the colors purple, green, and gold. And they are BRIGHT! These colors were assigned in 1892 and had certain meanings. Purple stands for justice, green for faith, and gold for power. For more information about their history, visit The Truth About the Purple, Green and Gold of Mardi Gras.
WOW! I wanted to see what this was all about and the history of masks dates as far back as medieval Europe celebrating the days before Lent. So weird to think that the tradition of Mardi Gras is embedded so far in our “world” history. Us naive Americans think it’s like this crazy, drinking party that we started celebrating in New Orleans. Surprise Phoenix!
Masks were worn in New Orleans back in the 1700’s during Mardi Gras. This allowed all different classes of people to intermingle with one another. It was a time where there was no social segregation. And I thought that’s what Halloween parties were for! I love it!!
In addition, by law requires float riders to wear masks. Wearing the mask is part of the culture and the mystique of Carnival. Not only are you not supposed to know who is on the float throwing your gifts, but wearing the mask allows you to “cut loose” and act as foolish as you want since nobody will know who you really are.
New Orleans Mardi Gras – Behind the Mask
~ Fred Reggie
Well, here’s something else I learned. I thought throws were only beads. I mean isn’t that what’s thrown at Mardi Gras? But throws aren’t just restricted to beads. They can be cups, homemade things, stuffed animals, toys, and doubloons (coins – I had to look that up).
I think I needed to do this research BEFORE I went out to New Orleans. Even though my girlfriend repeatedly told me the Mardi Gras cups she had were throws and I needed to hand them out to the cars (remember this is 2021 Mardi Gras), I didn’t completely understand. I’m like, “Ok?,” still trying to wrap my head around how a cup is a throw and why would you throw a cup that if you missed catching it could break (yes plastic still cracks) on the cement. In addition, to the potion bottles she had my daughter and her son attach the the beads she used as throws, she also had a box of toys to hand out for kids in the back seat. I didn’t fully understand that the throws match the theme of the float.
This is so different that what I’m used to with local town parades. In springtime, my ex and I used to take our girls and her nephews to a local parade. There were floats of local schools, sport teams, organizations, and various clubs (not even close to as big as the Krewe Floats in Mardi Gras). They threw candy for the kids, which the kids went crazy for, running here and there to make sure not one piece was missed. One year, the city banned the throwing of candy. So sad to see all the children just sit in chairs and wave, missing their enthusiasm and excitement to dash out for that one small tootsie roll.
I can’t imagine what it must look and feel like to see not only kids, but adults tapping into their inner child, trying to catch different types of throws from so many differently themed floats. No wonder why it’s a family event and also so revered as a community. And no wonder why it was emotionally hard and difficult for so many people to find out that this year’s Carnival was canceled due to the pandemic. I have a completely different understanding and compassion for the struggles my girlfriend was having celebrating Mardi Gras this year. I didn’t fully understand.
Now here was something else completely new for me. Everywhere you went, there were King Cakes for sale. I was thinking this was just a New Orleans tradition. Not realizing that it was a Mardi Gras tradition during only a part of the year. You go into the grocery store. King Cakes everywhere.
Speaking of tradition, how the heck is eating frosted purple, green and gold candy sprinkled cake with a baby hidden in it a tradition? I mean, any excuse I can have to eat sweets, bring it on! But why is this such a huge tradition?
Time to do more research.
According to the Christian faith, Jesus first showed himself to the three wise men and to the world on January 6th, also known as Twelfth Night or the Epiphany. The word “Epiphany” is from the Greek word “to show.” This is the day Mardi Gras season – hence king cake season – begins.
So that’s what the Epiphany is? Once again, I’m learning. Bear with me please. And no judgment. I’m sure some of my Fledglings are learning along with me. Remember, it isn’t until we become aware that we can truly appreciate ourselves, others, and the world around us
The baby symbolizes baby Jesus and is placed inside each cake to signify the Epiphany. The cake is then sliced up and handed out to everyone in attendance. They look inside their cake… (Which I learned is important because these babies are tiny and can become a choking hazard. Which is why most bakeries don’t put the baby in the cake. You have to do it yourself. That kinda sucks because then one person knows where the baby is and can’t participate in the tradition. I digress.) Whoever ends up with the baby becomes known as the King (kinda sexist if you ask me, once again I digress) and due to the tradition, they are charged with the responsibility of bringing the cake to the next event.
King’s Cake is Mardi Gras’ Most Famous Desert
~ Food Insider
Great, now I’m craving a slice of King Cake.
Flambeaux – The Keepers of the Light
The Flambeaux was something my girlfriend got really excited about and couldn’t wait to share with my daughter and I. Unfortunately, this is something that loses its impact watching it from a TV screen in a freezing winter storm. Watching something from afar is much different then being up close and personal with the event.
The Flambeaux dates back to Mistick Krew of Comus on Fat Tuesday in 1957. In the beginning, they were people who held wooden torches wrapped in rags so that onlookers could see the Carnival parades at night. This later evolved to large oil burning lanterns on long poles. The men who carried them would twirl the torches while dancing down the street. Many Krewes still begin their parades to this day with Flambeaux, keeping with the Mardi Gras tradition.
The History of the Flambeaux
An article in the Oxford American titled The Keepers of the Light, not only gives a detailed history about the Flambeaux but also includes an interesting back story about the sensationalism around Mardi Gras and also the writer’s experience watching the Flambeaux suit up and walk the parade. This piece is really well written and makes me want to head back to Mardi Gras next year to truly experience what Mardi Gras is all about.
The Northside Skull and Bone Gang
Yet another tradition of Mardi Gras is the Northside Skull and Bone Gang. This is an over 200 year old tradition that dates back to 1819. Every Mardi Gras morning at 5am, this group parades down the streets of Treme, which is the nation’s oldest African American neighborhood, dressed in costumes that look like skeletons waking people up to celebrate the day. They dance, beat on drums, and knock on doors and windows while chanting:
“We come to remind you before you die.
You better get your life together.
Next time you see us, it’s too late to cry!”
Beware of the Skull and Bone Gang
~ The Atlantic Selects
I have a good friend who on Monday keep texting me, “Happy Lundi Gras!” I’m like what? Ok. I guess Lundi rhymes with Monday. I ask, what is Lundi Gras? “It’s the Monday celebrating the day before Mardi Gras.” I’m so confused. Is Mardi Gras the whole time from January 6th through Fat Tuesday or is it Fat Tuesday?
Ok, let me see if I got this right. Carnival is from January 6th to the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras is the two weekends before Ash Wednesday. Then there’s Lundi Gras, the Monday before Fat Tuesday, and Fat Tuesday is known as Mardi Gras Day. However, some people call all of it Mardi Gras which then makes my mind just spin.
Back to Lundi Gras; another reason to celebrate and have a good time. Now I understand why schools and many business are closed the entire week of Mardi Gras (I learned that this week too). It’s community holiday celebrating their rich history.
The Music of Mardi Gras
Probably one of the things I missed the most this year was to be immersed in the musical culture of Mardi Gras and New Orleans (in fact, I’ve missed that every time I’ve gone out there). While my girlfriend played a Mardi Gras mix from the speakers on her porch and both my daughter and I danced on the sidewalk waving to the cars that drove by and running up throws to the ones that stopped, I didn’t even get a little taste of what the LIVE music of Mardi Gras is famous for.
This music is a multitude of different forms that comes together during this time. Big bands and orchestral arrangements, rhythm and blues, jazzy tunes, Afro-Caribbean chants and percussive rhythms. I have read that it’s similar to Christmas, where New Orleanians can’t wait to put away their Christmas albums and trade them in for the musical vibe of Carnival. Which is what my youngest daughter told me; she really liked the vibe of the music. Your head just bobs to the beat, your feet tap the floor, and your heart makes you want to just get up and dance.
A gathering of souls together as everyone joins in moving and grooving to the musical beat. Music brings people together.
Mardi Gras Party Classics
(Just let the playlist continue playing)
I really wish I had the opportunity to experience this in a live venue. Music is such a deep part of my soul and the idea of watching everyone coming together through music, brightens my spirit. I don’t think I’ve experienced that intensity of connection since DJing a few weddings and my Jamaican Cruise with live Reggae bands and DJ’s four years ago (a blog that was written yet still needs to be published). I miss live musical events. Mardi Gras will definitely be something I have to come back to experience!
2021 Krewe of House Floats
This leads us to the Modified Mardi Gras of 2021.
Due to the increasing numbers of positive cases of Covid, the pandemic still so much a part of our lives, and to prevent a super spreader event, the mayor made the decision to cancel Mardi Gras. I know this didn’t come lightly. I had read that Mardi Gras brings in 1 billion dollars in revenue for the community each year. Canceling this celebration hits the economy hard!
In addition, two weekends before Mardi Gras Day, because people hit the streets and started the party without social distancing and wearing masks, the mayor further decided to shut down all bars, any restaurants that served alcohol, and close the French Quarter the weekend before Mardi Gras Day. This was devastating to the people of New Orleans who probably really could have used the celebrations to get out of what I call, The Covid Pandemic Blues. Hmmm, that could be a good, uplifting Rising from the Ashes sort of song with a New Orleanian beat.
Canceling the parades and balls of Mardi Gras did not stop the community from rallying together to still celebrate their long tradition. As explained in this article, A Year Without Parades, the day the city announced that there’d be no parades, Megan Boudreaux made a Twitter post stating, “Last year I made a bunch of origami flowers that kiddo and I passed out to people while we wandered around the French Quarter. Tempted to continue the theme, turn the whole house into a flower float and pass out flowers to the neighbors while I drink all day.” She invited her neighbors to decorate their homes which later expanded to her becoming the founder and captain of the city’s newest and fastest-growing Krewe – the Krewe of House Floats.
Anyone who wanted to be a part of this signed up to become their own Krewe. Remember how there were like over 50 parade Krewes? There were over 3,000 people who signed up to decorate their houses! And those were only the ones who signed up. In addition, the area surrounding New Orleans was broken down into Sub-Themed Krewes. For instance, my girlfriend’s neighborhood theme was “Yaaasss, Kween!” She chose to decorate her porch as the Queen of Voodoo, Marie Laveau.
People would drive by enjoying a homeowner’s personalized float, and if the homeowner was there on the porch, they’d stop if they wanted a throw. Wearing masks, the homeowner would run throws down to the vehicles. Everyone I had given throws to at my girlfriend’s house expressed so much gratitude that we were keeping the tradition of Carnival and Mardi Gras going. Of course, they had no idea that I really had no clue what Mardi Gras was. I mean look at me still, after the fact, learning about it. LOL! In addition, the majority of the cars that stopped had kids in them which made me so glad we could keep up the tradition for them.
My daughter, girlfriend, her son and I also went out on both Saturday night and Mardi Gras Day to drive around, view the house floats, and receive throws from others. With the cold winter storm that hit most of the US, we didn’t have a chance to check out as many houses as we would have liked. In addition, my daughter’s school was not canceled for Mardi Gras, so she had to attend via Zoom, which further cut into our celebration. Unfortunately, we got a small taste of what Mardi Gras is like in New Orleans. We did find a safe way to enjoy the celebration and can’t wait to have the full experience next year.
House Floats 2021
Yadi Gras House Floats
~ Free Tours by Foot
I do see a new tradition coming out of this event. I see the Krewe of House Floats only getting bigger. In fact this year, they said there were house floats in at least 40 different states as well as cities all over the world. I think next year I just may make a House Float myself to celebrate the season. I see everyone joining in as much as Christmas.
2021 may have changed Mardi Gras into something bigger than it ever was before! Valentine’s Day might just get a run for its money when all the stores start stocking up for Mardi Gras instead.
Mardi Gras Conclusion
I’m grateful I was able to experience just a taste of what Mardi Gras is about. I send a shout out to my girlfriend and watching her excitement over the festivities as she tried to explain Mardi Gras to both my daughter and I. And I thank God and the Universe for the opportunity to continue to expand my awareness of what else we have to celebrate and be grateful for in the world.
What is Mardi Gras? The Real History and Traditions Explained
~ Newtral Groundz
Celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans
~ National Geographic
I know I’ve only scratched the surface on this amazing celebration. And once again, my apologies to those New Orleanians if I may have said something incorrectly or missed some very important details. I kinda wish I had worked on this share day before I had arrived in New Orleans. I would have had more of an appreciation for all the work my girlfriend had done and what she wanted to share with my daughter and I. I kinda have “selective male hearing disorder” (yes another blog for another time) Not intentionally. I’m just more of a visual person than audio. I’m working on it though. A work in progress.
We’re always a work in progress.
We’re always Rising Out of the Ashes.
Together We Can Heal