Sunday, February 3, 2008

Mardi Gras (WHAT???) is almost over~

Mardi Gras---What is it? For a simple definition, it is a huge party that starts between 1 and 2 months before Ash Wednesday and ends on Fat Tuesday. That being said, what is it really? For those that live on the Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and some on the Florida panhandle, it is a holiday that is treated with as much enthusiasm as Halloween or Christmas---and sometimes more! Businesses, schools, and every0ne from infants to the VERY aged can be seen at and/or having their own parades, balls (that's a dance), parties, and will dress in PURPLE, GREEN, and GOLD when they would otherwise not dream of putting those colors together! Masks, costumes, and frivolity are quite common. If you live in the areas that celebrate--you can find almost ANYTHING in this color combinations! In general (not all celebrate it), it is generally well known and well attended.

Most all information you will see states something about Mardi Gras having its roots in New Orleans. As it was the French explorers d'Iberville and Bienville that settled south and east of the current location of New Orleans--yes you could say that they brought the European celebration to the United States. However, the first Mardi Gras PARADE was NOT held in New Orleans, but in Mobile, AL. I'm sure you can find all sorts of arguments for/against that statement--but living closer to Mobile than New Orleans, I'll side with the Mobile side of the story--besides its true.

Another false tale you may hear about Mardi Gras is that it is a pagan holiday. In actuality, it is the Christians' way of getting one last really good party in before having to fast and "give up" all of the "good stuff" for Lent.

Let me see if I can get some factual information for you. One of the best (well shortest) definitions and information to be able to incorporate it into your home, private or public class comes from:

A Production of

on the World Wide Web. I will thank all of those that found the information and included it on their website right here and now! Of course there are other sites that have equal definitions--this one just happens to be somewhat educational (for younger children) in general. Everything written in blue (below) was taken (without writing for permission) from the Holidays on the Net site. In the event that they got their information elsewhere--then you need to go to their site to see where they got their information.

The History of Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras came to New Orleans through its French heritage in 1699. Early explorers celebrated this French Holiday on the banks of the Mississippi River. Throughout the years, Orleanians have added to the celebration by establishing krewes (organizations) which host parades and balls. Carnival quickly became an exciting holiday for both children and adults.

Mardi Gras means "Fat Tuesday" and of course is celebrated on that day of the week. The date can fall between February 3 and March 9 depending on the Lunar calendar, used by the Catholic Church to determine the date of Easter. Mardi Gras is always 47 days before Easter Sunday.

The official colors for Mardi Gras are purple, green, and gold. These colors were chosen in 1872 by the King of Carnival, Rex. He chose these colors to stand for the following:
Purple represents justice
Green stands for faith
Gold stands for power
The Mardi Gras season begins on January 6 and continues until Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. On the Christian calendar, the twelfth day after Christmas is known as "Epiphany", "Twelfth Night", or "Kings Day." It is the day the gift-bearing Magi visited the baby Jesus, and is celebrated with its own unique rituals.

As part of the celebration of Mardi Gras, it is traditional to bake an oval cake in honor of the three kings - the King Cake. The shape of a King Cake symbolizes the unity of faiths. Each cake is decorated in the traditional Mardi Gras colors: purple represents justice, green represents faith and gold represents power. A small baby, symbolizing the baby Jesus, is baked into each cake.
In New Orleans (and throughtout the areas listed above that celebrate Mardi Gras), King Cake parties are held throughout the Mardi Gras season. In offices, classrooms, and homes throughout the city, King Cakes are sliced and enjoyed by all. Like the biblical story, the "search for the baby" adds excitement, as each person waits to see in whose slice of cake the baby will be discovered. While custom holds that the person who finds the baby in their slice will be rewarded with good luck, that person is also traditionally responsible for bringing the King Cake to the next party or gathering.

The traditional King Cake is made from twisted strands of cinnamon dough, topped with icing, and sprinkled with purple, green, and gold colored sugar. Today, many additional varieties of King Cake are also available, with fillings such as cream cheese, strawberry, apple, and lemon.

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