Some things we take for granted. For example, it wasn’t until approximately a year ago that I realized that white perch wasn’t sold in grocery stores or fish markets—at least, not legally. And it wasn’t until a friend made a passing comment that alerted me to the fact. It wasn’t anything new, though. I simply had never taken the time to pay attention. Why? Because, whenever I wanted perch, we just fished it out of the bayou. I’d never attempted to purchase it, and never gave thought to it not being sold. After all, it’s not like there’s a shortage of white perch. Since I always had access to the fish, I assumed (and we all know what is said about assuming anything) that everyone had the same access. Wrong!
“Assuming” is the reason for this post. Yeah, I know white perch has nothing to do with Mardi Gras, but in the tangled convolutions of that thing I call a brain, I connected the two. See, growing up in South Louisiana, I assumed (once again) that everyone knew about Mardi Gras… That is, until I started hearing some strangeness that caused me to raise an eyebrow. I mean, South Louisiana isn’t the only place to celebrate Mardi Gras (which, by the way, most refer to as carnival). Yet, I’ve come to discover that there are many misconceptions about what Mardi Gras is and why it’s celebrated.
Now, I’ve tackled this subject before on my Creole Bayou blog, but since Mardi Gras season just kicked off on January 6, I thought it would be appropriate to do a brief refresher for those interested. If you’re interested in the importance of January 6, please visit my post, Is It Mardi Gras Yet? for a deep dive into it. This post will focus on an overview of the basics of Carnival. Let’s jump-start this with answer the question: What is Mardi Gras? To answer this question, I must explain the translation of the term Mardi Gras and define Carnival.
The term Mardi Gras is French. Mardi means Tuesday, and Gras means fat. Hence, translated Mardi Gras means Fat Tuesday. Simple enough, right? Here is where some of the confusion begins. While many people use the term Mardi Gras to refer to the entire season, the actual Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday is one day out of the season. In fact, it is the last day of the season. Specifically, it is the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. (This fact is important, and I’ll circle back to this.) The season or period of time that people begin celebrating is much longer. In 2023, the Mardi Gras season began on January 6th and will end on February 21st. February 21st is Fat Tuesday. Thus, linguistically, it does not make much logic to refer to a period of forty-five days (January 6 to February 20th) by the name of a singular day. Fat Tuesday is also referred to as Shrove Tuesday.
The celebration begins with parades, parties, and balls. The definition for carnival is a period of public revelry at regular times each year involving dancing, masquerades, music, parades, and processions. The season of Mardi Gras begins with balls, parades, and parties. Referring to the “Mardi Gras season” as Carnival is appropriate. (It’s a lot simpler to differentiate if a person is discussing the specific day or the entire season.) Thus, Carnival is the season, and Mardi Gras is the last day (Fat Tuesday). Fat Tuesday is also known as Shrove Tuesday.
Carnival is the season of festivities that stem from the Roman Catholic tradition and celebration of Lent. (I’ll discuss Lent in a moment.) As previously mentioned several times, Carnival begins on January 6, which is the Feast of Epiphany. However, this feast day has many names including the Twelfth Night, Three Kings Day, or the Twelfth Day of Christmas. Carnival is a time of celebration, feasting, fun, and parties before the beginning of Lent when the abstaining begins. Lent begins with the Catholic holy day of obligation Ash Wednesday. However, I must pause here to mention that Catholicism is not the only religion that recognizes and/or celebrates Lent.
Lent is the six-week period of forty days (not including Sundays) that precedes Easter. It is a solemn time when Christians prepare for the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Lent derives its name from the blessing of palm leaf ashes that have been used in the celebration of the Christian holy day of Palm Sunday. The palm leaves are burned, and the ashes are placed on the forehead of celebrants by a priest to denote their period of fasting, reflection, and penance. During Lent, Christians engage in fasting and abstinence as a remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice. So, how does all of this tie in together?
NOTE: Some historians that argue that Mardi Gras originated from a pagan tradition. During this pagan tradition, a fat ox was paraded while onlookers indulged in binge drinking and eating. Other historians argue that Shrove Tuesday originated from the pagan celebrations of Lupercalia and Saturnalia, which celebrated fertility and spring.
While Lent is said to be the preparation for Easter, Carnival is the preparation for Lent. Working backward, this is how the two are connected. The simplest way to clarify how Lent and Carnival are related is to take a historical look at Lent. Since Lent is a period of abstinence and fasting, Christians would remove from their household (on Ash Wednesday) any items they would abstain from during the Lenten period. Frequently, the items removed included food. Many of the food items were fatty or caused one to become fat (e.g., meats, sweets, and alcohol). Now, remember, Lent lasts forty days, and food (even in those days) was expensive. So, instead of tossing out these items, early Christians had to consume or use them prior to Ash Wednesday. In this regard, Carnival is sort of like having a bachelor or bachelorette party the night before the wedding. It’s the last hoorah! Due to these types of overindulgent celebrations occurring the day prior to the beginning of Lent, it gained the nickname of Fat Tuesday, which stuck.
As mentioned previously, Shrove Tuesday is another term for Fat Tuesday. The term Shove Tuesday provides another aspect of the Mardi Gras season. The word “shrove” derives from the word “shrive”, which means to absolve. More specifically, it means to give absolution after hearing a confession. On this day, early Christians would confess their sins to a priest and receive absolution as part of their preparation for Lent.
So, all of this sounds simple enough until one looks at a calendar. If Carnival begins on the Epiphany which is always celebrated on January 6th, it would seem that Easter would also be the same day each year. However, this is not the case. This is because Easter is celebrated the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the March Equinox. There are two equinoxes (the length of the day and night that are nearly equal due to the sun shining directly on the equator) every year. The first equinox occurs in March, and the second occurs in September. These are not fixed dates. The date of Fat Tuesday is set according to the date of Ash Wednesday which is based on the date Easter Sunday is celebrated by the Orthodox Christian churches. This means that Carnival can last anywhere from four to eight weeks. Now, is there a parade every day? No. The big stuff happens the week leading to Ash Wednesday, but the celebration begins long before then.
Okay, so now we’re on the last stretch.
Most people associate the colors purple, green, and gold with Mardi Gras, but not everyone knows why. These colors are not random. On the contrary, they are symbolic—like almost every other aspect of Mardi Gras. The parades have meaning. The beads have meaning. The costumes have meaning. The masks have meaning. Even the torches have meaning. But in all fairness, there is a bit of randomness and buffoonery thrown in as well. However, the colors have legit meanings. Purple is a symbol of justice and royalty. Green is a symbol of faith, and gold is a symbol of prestige and power.
So, there it is: the quick and dirty about Mardi Gras. Now, it’s your turn to sound off. What did you think? Did you find this information helpful or informative? Did you learn anything new? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section. If you’re interested in more content on Mardi Gras, Creole culture, Cajun culture, or southern living, I have lots more content on my blog and website. If you’re not following me on Creole Bayou blog, what are you waiting for? There’s always room at the bayou. Also, if you like this post, please click the like button and share it. Your feedback allows me to know the content that you want to read.
Get ready. It’s almost time to hit the ice again. Future Goals Coming soon.
When a college hockey player needs the help of an attractive older attorney, he gets more than he bargained for when trying to sort out the troubles in his career. Falling in love was never part of either man’s plan, especially as Corrigan’s and Sacha’s lives should never have collided. Now they’re left questioning if they’re standing in the way of the other’s future goals, or if there’s room for redirection.
Missed the first four books in my hockey romance series? No frets.
Out of the Penalty Box (book #1), where it is one minute in the box or a lifetime out, is available at http://amzn.to/2Bhnngw. It also can be ordered on iTunes, Nook, or Kobo. For more links on where to purchase or to read the blurb, please visit http://bit.ly/2i9SqpH.
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Until next time, happy reading and much romance. Laissez le bon temps rouler.
About the Author
Genevive Chamblee resides in the bayou country where sweet tea and SEC football reign supreme. She is known for being witty (or so she thinks), getting lost anywhere beyond her front yard (the back is pushing it as she’s very geographically challenged), falling in love with shelter animals (and she adopts them), asking off-the-beaten-path questions that makes one go “hmm”, and preparing homecooked Creole meals that are as spicy as her writing. Genevive specializes in spinning steamy, romantic tales with humorous flair, diverse characters, and quirky views of love and human behavior. She also is not afraid to delve into darker romances as well.