The Mardi Gras carnival has roots in Christianity
- Mardi is the French word for Tuesday, and gras means “fat.” In France, the eve of Ash Wednesday is known as Mardi Gras or “Mardi Gras”.
- The word carnival, another common name for pre-Lenten festivities, also derives from this fasting tradition.
- When Christianity came to Rome, religious leaders decided to incorporate these popular traditions into the new faith, an easier task than trying to abolish them altogether.
One of my favorite pop songs is Take Me to the Mardi Gras by Paul Simon. Released in 1973, it was his fourth single from his third studio album There Goes Rhymin’ Simon on Columbia Records.
I was in my final year of high school when I first heard the song, but I already knew Paul Simon as part of the duo Simon and Garfunkel who were famous for songs such as Bridge over Troubled Waters (1970) and The Sound of Silence. (1965).
At the time, I just liked the catchy melody and the lyrics, which suggested a colorful festival of crazy nights. Now that I have a passion for historical things, I will delve into the origins and meaning of the festival.
Mardi Gras is a tradition that dates back thousands of years to pagan celebrations of spring and fertility, including the boisterous Roman festivals of Saturnalia and Lupercalia.
Mardi is the French word for Tuesday, and gras means “fat.” In France, the eve of Ash Wednesday is known as Mardi Gras or “Mardi Gras”.
Traditionally, in the days before Lent, revelers would gorge themselves on all the rich and fatty foods, meat, eggs, milk, lard and cheese, which were left at home, in anticipation of several weeks of eating nothing but fish and different types . of fasting. In many areas, Mardi Gras has become a week-long festival.
The word carnival, another common name for pre-Lenten festivities, also derives from this fasting tradition. In medieval Latin, carnelevarium means to take away or take away meat, from the Latin carnem, for meat.
When Christianity came to Rome, religious leaders decided to incorporate these popular traditions into the new faith, an easier task than trying to abolish them altogether.
As a result, the excess and debauchery of the Mardi Gras season became a prelude to Lent, the 40 days of fasting and penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. In this way, everyone had the opportunity to do something worth repenting for!
Along with Christianity, Mardi Gras spread from Rome to other European countries, including France, Germany, Spain and England.
Today, the festival is celebrated in many countries around the world, especially those with large Roman Catholic populations, on the eve of the start of the religious season of Lent. This year’s carnival fell on Tuesday, March 1, and the festival resumed in New Orleans after a two-year hiatus following the Covid-19 outbreak.
Brazil, Venice and New Orleans host some of the holiday’s most famous public festivities, attracting thousands of tourists and revelers each year.
The first American Mardi Gras took place on March 3, 1699, when French explorers Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and Sieur de Bienville landed near present-day New Orleans, Louisiana. They threw a small party and dubbed their landing spot Mardi Gras Point.
In the decades that followed, New Orleans and other French colonies began marking the holidays with street parties, masked balls, and lavish dinners. However, when the Spaniards took control of New Orleans, they abolished these rowdy rituals, and the bans remained in effect until Louisiana became a US state in 1812.
On Shrove Tuesday in 1827, a group of students donned colorful costumes and danced through the streets of New Orleans, mimicking the revelry they had witnessed when they visited Paris. Ten years later, the first recorded New Orleans Mardi Gras took place, a tradition that continues to this day.
In 1857, a secret society of New Orleans businessmen called the Mistick Krewe of Comus organized a torch-lit Mardi Gras procession with marching bands and rolling floats, setting the tone for future public celebrations in the city.
Since then, krewes have remained a staple of the carnival scene. Other enduring customs include throwing beads and other trinkets, wearing masks, decorating floats, and eating King Cake.
Louisiana is the only state in which Mardi Gras is a public holiday. However, elaborate carnival festivities also draw large crowds in other parts of the United States during Mardi Gras season, including Alabama and Mississippi. Each region has its own events and traditions.
Around the world, pre-Lenten festivals continue to take place in countries with large Roman Catholic populations.
Brazil’s week-long Carnival festivities feature a vibrant amalgamation of European, African and indigenous traditions. In Canada, Quebec City hosts the giant Quebec Winter Carnival while in Italy, tourists flock to the Carnival of Venice, which dates back to the 13th century and is famous for its masked balls.
Known as Karneval, Fastnacht or Farching, the German celebration includes parades, costume balls and a tradition of women cutting men’s ties. In Denmark, children dress up and collect candy in a similar manner on Halloween, although the parallel ends when they ritually whip their parents on Easter Sunday morning!
Interestingly, many Christian celebrations have their roots in pagan European traditions. We are told that the religious leaders of the time found it easier to adopt these pagan practices rather than try to abolish them altogether.
However, when the missionaries came to Africa, they demonized our traditional practices, calling them uncivilized, barbaric, savage and backward.