Weeks of debauchery followed by weeks of piety is a spiritual journey for Christians to acknowledge their mortality. Fat Tuesday is a celebration of everyindulgence known to mankind; fatty foods, alcohol and sexual inhibitions. Fat Tuesday is the last day of the Carnival season which is followed by Ash Wednesday which is the beginning of Lent, 40 days to Easter. The Carnival season is identified with merrymaking, feasting and dancing and Mardi Gras is the finale of festivities, parades, masquerades, intoxication and unabashed decadence. The juxtaposition of the extravagant pleasures of the Carnival season with the rigidity of Lent are so contrasting that its unbelievable that the two seasons are integral to each other. Mardi Gras is the last day to binge before surrendering gratification to practice austerity for 40 days.
Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday have their roots that go farther back beyond Christian history. In fact the Bible makes no reference that the early Christians practiced Carnival or Lent. Fat Tuesday and the Carnival has its roots in Pagan hedonistic rituals and celebrations that coincide with the seasons. The few days of festival signified the few days added to the lunar calendar to make it coordinate with the solar calendar. Since the days were apart from the calendar, rules and traditions were not observed. Others viewed it as a late winter celebration to bring in the spring. The Romans had a tradition of a 40 day fast which was subsequent after a period of feasting, costumes and merrymaking. The word carnival comes from the Latin words carne vale meaning “farewell to the flesh.” Early Christians evolved the Pagan celebrations to have a pious meaning and that is where Ash Wednesday comes in. Ash Wednesday is the starting day of Lent which is a transition to repentance and spiritual purification.
Ash Wednesday also referred to the “Day of Ashes” because Christian followers go to church to have their foreheads marked with ashes in the symbol of a cross. In the Bible ashes represent humility and the repentance of sins. In modern culture, Lent is a period of fasting and abstinence, eating one meal and two smaller meals each day during the 40 day period and meat is restricted on Ash Wednesday and every Friday until good Friday. The whole purpose of fasting and abstinence is preparing for Easter and observing the resurrection of Christ.
The first Mardi Gras occurred in the U.S. on March 3, 1699 when French explorers came to modern-day Louisiana. In the following years New Orleans and other French settlements embraced the holiday with masked balls, extravagant dinners and wild street parties. Under the rule of the Spaniards, Mardi Gras was eradicated but restored when Louisiana became part of the Union in 1812. As time passed, Mardi Gras assimilated lasting traditions; throwing beads, donning masks, decoration of floats and eating king cake. Louisiana is the only state where Mardi Gras is a legal holiday, however Fat Tuesday celebrations are held across the country.
In the 12 days that lead up to Fat Tuesday approximately one million people pack the streets of New Orleans bringing in more than $300 million into the city’s coffers. Weeks before Mardi Gras the whole town is in preparation, like working on costumes, decorating floats for the parade, attending balls and eating king cake. At exactly midnight the festive debauchery comes to a complete end when police clear the streets for sanitation workers to clean up the trash. The next day New Orleans wakes up from the vestiges of depraved Fat Tuesday to observe righteous Ash Wednesday.
By Isriya Kendrick