Well, today is Mardi Gras. French for “Fat Tuesday”. This day, before Ash Wednesday, is known for the huge celebration that occurs before the 40-day period known to many faithful followers of the church as LENT. If you aren’t familiar with Lent, it is the period of perparation and remembrance before Easter (Resurrection day). And, is the supposed season of abstinence. Some people love it. Some people fear it.
But for today, the focus is on a big, happy Last Hurrah: Carnival. I dated a guy who repeatedly told me how much he loved Marid Gras. I remember him holding up and pointing out to me a box full of celebratory photos. Ironically, he refused to show me the pictures of his precious trips to the Big Easy. Hmmmmm. Our dating season didn’t last long.
Carnival period, as it is known, begins around Epiphany (or Twelfth Night/January 6) and ends on Ash Wednesday (tomorrow). The two most famous cities that take part in this long held tradition?
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and New Orleans, Louisiana–of course.
But did you know that Venice, Italy is actually home to one of the most famous Carnival celebrations in the world? Carnival of Venice ring a bell? Yep. They can actually find record of festivities dating back to the year 1268!
In 1294 A.D., a chap named Comte de Provence Charles II, Duc d’Anjou attended the festivities in Nice, France. And, apparently Carnival even back then included balls, masquerades, bonfires, jugglers, mimes, and more. There was a catch however, if you wanted to take part you had to show up in costume with a mask.
Today, to me, like any festival, it’s all about the food.
If you’re from Ireland or the United Kingdom, the festival for you is called “Shrovetide” (and today for you is Shrove Tuesday). And in your neck of the woods it’s all about the pancakes. You even refer to this day as Pancake Day!
But for those of us in the Deep Southern states, who do the Mardi Gras thing, it’s all about the King Cake (Twelfth Night Cake). For our readers that might not quite be up to speed on this particular tasty treat, the cake is symbolic of the journey the Three Wisemen took to visit baby Jesus. Supposedly, their journey lasted 12 days and found them arriving on January 6-Epiphany. Coming together for you a bit?
This cake is similar to the All-American cinnamon roll, topped with icing or sugar, usually baked in a ring shape, and, frosted or iced with the three colors of Mardi Gras: gold, green, and purple (symbolic of power, faith, and justice). And of course, in honor of our three kings.
The baker of the King Cake hides a surprise in the cake, usually a dried red bean or a figurine of a baby representing the Christ child. When the cake is cut whoever gets the piece with the hidden treasure is said to enjoy good luck for the coming year. Or, you have to bake the King Cake or throw the Mardi Gras party next year.
Whatever the case, I am always amazed, that if you look deep enough into most holidays or festivals (at least those created prior to the 1900s) you will find a religious connection or symbolism.
So there you have it. Today is the feast day (Mardi Gras) before the famine (Lent). So, have your King Cake and eat it too. Come back tomorrow, and we’ll fill you in on Ash Wednesday and the days ahead. As always, for today…
Just my thoughts.