Laissez les bon temps rouler!
I grew up with Mardi Gras as a holiday. It still surprises me when I find out the Monday before and the day of are not actual vacation days in other states the way they were, growing up here in Louisiana. Lots of people take off work, many state agencies claimed it a holiday (and I'm not sure if that practice is still in force), and most schools let out. Sure, lots of schools wouldn't actually claim to be taking the holiday off for Mardi Gras because that would be a religious holiday, and we just do not do that, right? They surreptitiously got around this problem by calling the days "Teacher Planning Days." And that totally fooled everyone.
Mardi Gras is otherwise known as "Fat Tuesday" - the holiday which precedes Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season (if you're Catholic). It's where most people who are going to fast (and quite a few who aren't) live it up with as much decadence as they can cram into the day because at midnight, Lenten season starts, which is a time for fasting and sacrifice. Most good Catholics give up something they love for Lent, and so had a vested interest in enjoying their vice up 'til midnight before. The rest of us... well, who doesn't love a party?
The celebration has been around a while, with the earliest known recording of the carnival being 1268 in Venice (according to Widipedia). It came to the US, though, in 1699, when Iberville and Bienville (I am sparring you the extensively long names) were sent by the King of France to claim the French territory of Louisianne. By 1703, Mobile had become the capitol of Louisianne, and the first Mardi Gras celebration took hold. A few years later, it moved to Biloxi when that city became the capitol, and then, finally, to New Orleans in 1723 when that city became the capitol.
From there, it grew.
Now, every year, all across the globe, thousands of people gather:
and go a little crazy with showing off bare chests (the only safe-for-work photo I could find) (you are welcome)...
Lots of people take the opportunity to dress up:
While some just like to come in their normal attire:
(Gives a whole new meaning to "don't take candy from a stranger," huh?)
There are crowds galore anticipating the parades and enjoying the floats:
And cries of "Throw me somethin', Mister!" ring out and drown any normal thought.
A lot of the floats are expensively done, details favorties:
And one of the favorite foods of the season is the king cake... whoever bites into the baby (representing the Baby Jesus) has to throw the party for the next year.
My favorite king cake has cream cheese and strawberry or blueberry filling, but I am a non-traditionalist, with that regard. Also, I'm more into the icing-topped cakes vs. the sprinkles, which is practically sacrilege, but what the hell. It's Mardi Gras. I'll repent and fast... tomorrow.
How about you? Do you celebrate Mardi Gras in your city? Have you ever been to a parade? Had a King Cake? If not, what kind of popular festivals do you have in your area?
**all photos linked to their source / owner, where possible**
my site: http://tonimcgeecausey.com
the books: The Bobbie Faye trilogy