Its LUNDI GRAS today! I hear you thinking “What is Lundi Gras?”. Well.. it is the recently popularized name for Shrove Monday (the Monday before Ash Wednesday) and the day before Mardi Gras.The word shrove is the past tense of the English verb shrive, which means to obtain absolution for one’s sins by way of Confession and doing penance. Lundi is French for the word Monday. Hence it’s the Monday before Mardi Gras.
As Lundi Gras goes in South Louisiana, its the celebrated day of Rex, King of Carnival, arriving by boat to the city of New Orleans. King Rex then meets with King Zulu, of the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club, who also arrives by boat. The Mayor of New Orleans then toasts the two, giving them symbolic control of the city for the remainder of the Mardi Gras season.
As promised, in my last post, It’s Carnival Time Part 1, I will give you some more information about the traditions of Mardi Gras. Let’s do the “well known” traditions today and I will address the “family” traditions in my next post.
Let’s start with my favorite Mardi Gras tradition, the King Cake:
King Cakes are probably the best (in my opinion) tradition of Mardi Gras. The King Cake is a sweet yeast bread cake traditionally oval in shape. It is covered with a poured sugar topping decorated in the traditional Mardi Gras-colored sugars of purple, green and gold. Purple symbolizing Justice, Green symbolizing Faith, and Gold symbolizing Power. These colors are representative of the jeweled crown in honor of the Three Wise Men who visited the Christ Child on Epiphany. Epiphany, also known as Twelfth Night, is when the Carnival Season officially begins (January 6th).
The King Cake tradition is believed to have begun with French settlers around 1870. They were continuing a custom dating back to Twelfth Century France where a similar cake was used to celebrate the coming of the Magi twelve days after Christmas bearing gifts for the Christ Child, also known as King’s Day.
As a symbol of this Holy Day, a tiny plastic baby (symbolic of the baby Jesus) is placed inside each King Cake but in the past, the hidden items were usually coins, beans, pecans or peas. In 1871, the tradition of choosing the Queen of Mardi Gras was determined by who received a piece of cake with the prize inside the piece. Today it is considered good luck and the person who discovers the plastic baby is to host the next King Cake Party.
I would say the most popular tradition of Carnival Season would be the Parades:
Parades…. that is what we all know the Mardi Gras season to be right? But what is a Mardi Gras parades about anyway? On Mardi Gras of 1857, the Mystick Krewe of Comus held its first parade. The parades in New Orleans are organized by Carnival krewes. Krewe float riders toss throws to the crowds. The most common throws are strings of plastic beads, doubloons (aluminum or wooden dollar-sized coins usually impressed with a krewe logo), decorated plastic throw cups, and small inexpensive toys. Most major krewes have a “signature” throw. Zulu has painted coconuts, Rex has a Golden doubloon, Nyx throws feather boas & crowns, Babylon does jester hats, and the list goes on and on. Major krewes follow the same parade schedule and route each year.
Not only do the parades include beautifully decorated floats, but there are bands, marching groups, mounted horses, dune buggies….. its a real show to see. Each and every parade is unique and the floats are magnificent!
Last but certainly not least on the “traditions” list? Well……. that would be EXPOSURE! We have all heard about it, right? And if you HAVEN’T, consider yourself fortunate indeed.
Saying it is “tradition” is like saying that people who get drunk and pass out on Bourbon Street are following “tradition” as well. Thankfully, this does not occur everywhere in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, but just on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter area. An area known for its strip joints (where those interested in this sort of thing can see it year round).
Even the most demure ladies can cave in to the pressure of flashing their breasts for the coveted prize of Mardi Gras beads. Legend has it that this practice actually began very innocently. As early as 1871, masked characters would be riding on parade floats through the streets of New Orleans and they would be throwing out inexpensive souvenirs to the crowd. People are competitive by nature and the race was on to see who could collect the most throws. Beautiful young ladies would yell out, “Throw me something, mister” and fill their goodie bags with the collected loot. In the 1970’s, the notoriously raunchy French Quarter District gave the tradition a slightly different slant by coming up with the mutually beneficial bartering system of boobs for beads.
See It’s Carnival Time Part 1
Stay Tuned for the Last Installment of It’s Carnival Time…. where I will discuss the “family traditions” of the Mardi Gras Season!