|By: Marc Arms|
On February 21, 2020, the festival of Mardi Gras officially begins. For those of us who live outside of the deep South, the happenings of the festival are often portrayed as nothing more than the reason crowds of drunken people congregate to watch women, young and old, expose their breasts, in trade for strings of colorful plastic beads. While Mardi Gras is certainly time to celebrate and engage in the excesses many find irresistible, there is a far greater reason for this celebration which has roots in this country, dating back to 1699.
The origins of Mardi Gras can be traced to medieval Europe, as a celebration known as the “Fatted Calf.” The term “Fatted Calf” became a symbol, and a metaphor for a celebration which accompanied the arrival of anyone, who’s return had been long awaited. Such celebrations derive their importance from the Bible; specifically, from the Parable of the Prodigal Son. In Biblical times, it was a common practice to keep one piece of prime livestock, generally a lamb, well fed from a special diet and available for noteworthy occasions. In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the “Fatted Calf” is slaughtered by the Father, to show the symbolism and celebration of an event, which is anything but ordinary.
|Understanding the meaning behind Mardi Gras, requires one to explore the celebration itself. As with many of our holidays, Mardi Gras has its roots in Christian teaching. In Louisiana, the Biblical happening known as, “The Epiphany”, or “King Day”, is celebrated, as the time when the Baby Jesus, was first revealed to the three Magi. King Day, signals the beginning of Carnival Season, a time of celebration and for elaborate parties. Today, we recognize this event, as having occurred ten days after Christmas; and, as a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus. The celebrations include parades, floats, and parties, sponsored each day, by a specific group known as, “Krewes.” History tells us the first “Krewes”, or Mardi Gras Societies, were started by fraternal organizations and prominent businessmen, competing to outdo each other with their elaborate costumes, masked balls, and outlandishly decadent gatherings. Carnival Season includes celebrations which are ongoing over some fifty plus day’s, with each days event, sponsored by an individual Krewe.|
|This tradition began in earnest in 1872, when the Grand Duke, Alexei Alexandrovich, from Russia, visited the City of New Orleans. A group of local businessmen who had formed the “Krewe of Rex”, decided they would honor the Grand Duke, by appointing him as, “King Rex”, a sort of Grand Master of Mardi Gras. So successful was their endeavor, from this point forward, each successive Mardi Gras, would be overseen by an honored guest, known for their civic involvement and philanthropic pursuits, and would be called, Mardi Gras, Rex. The identity of each years “Rex”, is kept a secret until the day before Mardi Gras, when typically the honored guest is announced and handed a symbolic key to the city. Mardi Gras Rex makes his official appearance during, “Fat Tuesday”, signaling the end of Carnival Season is near and offering the last chance to indulge your excesses, feast to your heart’s content, and revel in the debauchery we so commonly associate with Mardi Gras.|
|The day following Mardi Gras is called Ash Wednesday and signals the beginning of Lent. For the next forty days, believers observe the solemn tradition of prayer, penance, and absence, from what is typically a favored food or activity, giving us the question, “what are you giving up for Lent?” The Lenten season continues for the next forty days and is emblematic of the time Jesus spent in the Judaean Desert, fasting and praying, as he was tempted again and again, by Satan. The last week of Lent is known as Holy Week, and begins with Palm Sunday. This time is meant to celebrate the return of Jesus from his forty days in the desert. The Bible tells us, palm leaves were spread on the ground, as Jesus rode into Jerusalem; and it is these palm branches, which will be gathered, then burned, forming the ashes to be used for the next years, Ash Wednesday. The following Friday, known as “Good Friday”, commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus and his death, which is followed by Easter Sunday and the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ.So, try as we may, to make Mardi Gras a symbol of excess, indulgence and an opportunity to exhibit questionable behavior, the truth of the matter, as always, can be found in history. Our King has returned, and because of his sacrifice, All of God’s people can proclaim, “Laissez les bons temps rouler… “Let the good times roll.”|