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Mardi Gras
Breasts and beads or revelry gone wrong? 

Mardi Gras, literally translated, means Fat Tuesday (Shrove Tuesday). Fat Tuesdays falls before Ash Wednesday in the celebration of Lent. Much of the tradition around the celebration of Mardi Gras comes directly from Twelfth Night revelers and the mischief that was the foundation of that celebration. 

Twelfth Night is a part of the year-end festivities of the UK and France. It was begun in the mid-fifth century when, following the thought that creating pagan festivities would lure people “back” to the religion, the English and French churches created a brilliant answer in the Feast of Fools. 

As part of the celebrations, temporary Archbishops and Bishops of Fools made-believe mischief based on satirical perceptions of the religious expectations of the time. Parades of fools, celebrations, street dancing and carnival atmosphere lent the revelers an opportunity to let their hair down and celebrate, before the beginning of the new season’s planting and hard work.   

Colorful Symbols of Mardi Gras
Colorful Symbols...

The French government banned the celebrations from the church by the end of the 15th century because of the degeneration into overly-lewd behavior. So, in a counter move by the people, a new street festival was “created”, including the Prince des Sots as he was known in France and the Lord of Misrule in England.  The Scots had him pegged as the Abbot of Unreason.  This festival King “ruled” for three months, beginning at Halloween. The pagan correlations are not accidental. Samhain (Halloween) being the highest pagan festival of the year, is the beginning of the long winter months of dark and quiet. The revelries ended just before a major Christian mark, Lent. 

Mardi Gras in New Orleans is reputedly full of bared breasts, drunk party girls and all sorts of lewd, crude and crazy behavior. The locals will tell you about the family side of the celebrations with parades, floats, trinkets thrown to spectators, concerts and more. While the party-goers head to the French Quarter where you might find much of what is “supposed” to go on during Mardi Gras in the Big Easy. Lawkeepers abound after dark in the city, but the French Quarter turns a blind eye to much of the partying that goes on during this very colorful, festive and pagan-based celebration. 

Copyright 2003

 


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