It is thought by some that Mardi Gras might date back to Roman pagan celebrations, 133 to 31 B.C. On the Julian calendar, which the Romans used at the time, the winter solstice fell on December 25. Hence, the celebration gradually became associated with Christmas.
From 4 B.C. forward, the festival is more commonly associated with Christian tradition. In the Gospel of Matthew, the biblical Magi (also called the 'Three Wise Men' or 'Three Kings') visited Jesus with gifts containing gold, frankincense, and myrrh. So on the twelfth day of Christmas, Christians celebrate the feast of Epiphany, a celebration of Jesus coming for more than just the Jews, as even Gentile magi were allowed to see him. This begins the Carnival celebration which continues until the day before Ash Wednesday. The culmination of this celebration overlapped with the beginning of Lent. Early Christians believed that during the Lenten season (the forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, not including Sundays), Christians should deprive themselves of anything (especially foods) that brought joy so that they might understand better the trials that Jesus faced leading up to his death on Good Friday. Thus, on the Tuesday before Lent and the last day of Epiphany, Christians would celebrate with a feast of their favorite foods to tide them over the coming weeks.
With that brief history of Mardi Gras, which is a French term meaning Fat Tuesday, behind us, let's move onto a few interesting and fun facts about this celebratory day.
1, Mardi Gras marks the end of the carnival season. Countries around the world celebrate Mardi Gras as the last day of Carnival season, which starts after Christmas, on January 6th, (known as 'Twelfth Night').
2. Mardi Gras is also known as Pancake Day. In Ireland, England, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, people celebrate Mardi Gras by eating pancakes and participating in pancake themed activities.
3. The official colors of Mardi Gras are purple, gold, and green. (Who knew this day had official colors...and one of them is GREEN!) Purple signifies justice, gold means power, and green stands for faith.
4. King's Cake is eaten throughout Carnival Season. King's cake (or three kings cake), is eaten throughout the world during carnival season. In the US, it is traditionally purple, green, and gold, with a trinket baby Jesus inside. Whoever gets the baby Jesus is said to have good luck all year!
5. The first New Orleans Mardi Gras parade happened 182 years ago. New Orleans has been celebrating Fat Tuesday with parades since 1837. The first floats appeared in the parade in 1857.
6. Mardi Gras parades are planned by Krewes. Krewes are organizations that put on a parade and/or a ball for Mardi Gras/Carnival. They are clubs of a sort, with dues ranging from $20 to thousands of dollars annually. Krewes are also responsible for selecting carnival royalty in New Orleans, such as 'Rex', the king of Mardi Gras.
7. Mardi Gras masks are required by law for float riders. Yep, it's illegal to ride on a float without a mask! The original purpose of the mask was to get rid of social constraints for the day, allowing people to mingle with whomever they chose.
8. Mardi Gras beads have been a tradition since the 1900s. Beads were first thrown by Santa during a parade in the early 1900s. It wasn't until a few decades ago that they became synonymous with flashing. People also throw stuffed animals, toys and more.
9. Mardi Gras is considered a State holiday in some US states. Fat Tuesday is an official state holiday in Alabama, (the home of the first Mardi Gras parade and 2nd biggest current celebration), Florida, and parts of Louisiana. Although it's not a state holiday in Texas, Galveston is home to one of the biggest celebrations in the country!
10. The biggest Mardi Gras celebrations in the world are: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Venice, Italy; New Orleans, Louisiana; Sao Vincente, Cape Verde; Nice, France; Barranquilla, Columbia; Trinidad and Tobago, Port of Spain; Goa, India (I wouldn't have guessed that one); and Quebec City, Canada.
Whatever your plans are today, have a happy Fat Tuesday! Please plan on coming back tomorrow for another lesson from my wise teacher and friend, The Dharma Frog.
Laissez les bon temps rouler! Let the good times roll. I'm outta here to go gorge myself on a few (dozen) fat flies. They don't call it Fat Tuesday for nothing!