Mardi Gras

I know what it is. Why did it start? And why in Louisiana?
I told my son it was a day to go wild, and he says his plans (in Northeast Ohio) are to go outside, in just his underwear, his hair spiked up, run down the street yelling wildly.
I don’t know where he gets it from…

A little infomation:

Mardi Gras means “Fat Tuesday” and is a celebration prior to the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday. Kind of the storm before the calm.

St. Louis has a Mardi Gras celebration in the Soulard area of the city. This area was historicaly French and there may be a connection there.

I think the “carnaval” in Rio is also a Mardi Gras celebration. May be a Catholic connection.

I’m sure someone with more information will be right along.

Mardi Gras is Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. The popular culture says you “give up something for Lent.” While strictly speaking true, a better way to think of Lent is as a period of abstinance, fasting and self-reflection. The point is to get yourself in the proper frame of mind for Easter, when you celebrate the birth of JC. A little self-denial beforehand is supposed to make you appreciate the gift he brought.

Over the years, people being the natural opportunists that they are, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday became the last chance for a really big blow out. The traditional meal is pancakes, I think because they used to be cooked in bacon fat and fatty foods are something you’re supposed to sort of avoid during Lent.

As for New Orleans, it didn’t start there. But the selfless natives there have stepped up to the plate and shown the rest of the country how to blow out their tubes (metaphorically) like the rest of us can only imagine. But I’m told that the Mardi Gras celebrations in Brazil make New Orleans look like a Sunday social. To quote Cecil:

“We await further reports from the field.”

Just as an addition to what Bassguy said:

Mardi Gras/Carnival is celebrated in nearly every country (or city) with a large Catholic population. The more famous of the parties are in New Orleans, Rio, and Venice, Italy. There are celebrations all over South America and throughout Europe. In places such as England, it is celebrated as Shrove Tuesday–the tradition being to eat pancakes and other rich foods–even though the whole of the English population is not Catholic.

Quebec City also has a highly festive Carnaval. More clothes than in Rio or New Orleans, but at least as much drinking.

It’s my understanding that the tradition of eating pancakes on Mardi Gras (or Shrove Tuesday, for the English) originated as a way to use up fat (butter, lard, whatever) before Lent, when you weren’t supposed to eat so much of it. It’s not the pancakes themselves that are too rich for Lent, they’re just a vehicle to use up frying fat, because it’d be pretty rancid after 40 days…

Now if someone could explain how the tradition of boob-flashing for beads got started…

Incidentally, the Latin word for “good-bye” is “Vale,” and the Latin word for “meat” or “flesh” is carnis.

Hence, the word carnival (and all variations) means “good-bye meat” or “good-bye (pleasures of the) flesh.” In THEORY, people were supposed to be fasting and foregoing meat and fleshly pleasures, during Lent. The Tuesday before Lent, of course, was a chance to enjoy all the pleasures one was supposedly foregoing for the next 40 days.