The Easter holiday is fast approaching, and this also means the start of Lent. But before any of the religious stuff there is Mardi Gras, which interests many more people. Mardi Gras begins the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, which is the official start of Lent. It is called “Fat Tuesday” because Lent is associated with deprivation and fasting and the day before people binge in preparation for the difficult time ahead. Mardi Gras has become very popular outside of the religious context and has come to be synonymous with a good time. This year Mardi Gras is especially unique because of the recent tragedy that demolished the city of New Orleans. City officials are going ahead with the Mardi Gras tradition in the hopes that people will return to the city and bring life back to it. Celebrities who call Louisiana home, such as Britney Spears, are trying to attract even more attention to the city.
But where did this outlandish tradition start? Some say the festive day has origins that date back to the Roman culture, but the exact beginning is unknown according to MardiGrasNewOrleans.com. In New Orleans, the festivities date back to the 18th century. The French, who inhabited New Orleans at the time, enjoyed having masked balls. The Spanish banned these events, but when Americans took over, they restored the French custom. A secret society called the Mystick Krewe of Comus decided to organize the celebration in order to preserve the customs associated with it. Since then, secret societies have become a tradition themselves in New Orleans.
However, most of what we, as outsiders, hear about Mardi Gras, has nothing to do with any secret societies or balls. We hear about the drinking, sexual exploits and extreme chaos, but to most native New Orleaners this is a completely inaccurate picture. MardiGrasNewOrleans.com stated that for most people in New Orleans, Mardi Gras is a family celebration with parades, food and good-natured fun. Charles Bauerlein, a professor at WCU, who lived in New Orleans, described the event as a “humanistic experience.” He also stated that the Mardi Gras that he attended always gave him a “warm and fuzzy feeling because people could be together, the blacks and whites, gay and straight people [to have fun],” and “.. it was an incredible experience that everyone should do once in their lifetime.”
The activities heard about in the news around the country take place at night in the French Quarter according to mardigrasneworleans.com, after the parades are over. This area also happens to contain most of the city’s strip joints, which explains the reasons for why this area attracts the people that it does. This is where all the flashing for beads and sexual exploits happen. Most people from New Orleans take no part in these activities and in fact the parade routes do not even enter the French Quarter for this reason.
Even though we are far away from the center of Mardi Gras there are still some ways that we can celebrate here. In Philadelphia, many restaurants will have a Mardi Gras theme. However, if leaving West Chester is not an option, then simply have a Mardi Gras themed party. All it takes are some beads, masks and a lot of food. Another option is to gather a few friends and celebrate by watching all the magnificent parades happening in New Orleans. Whatever way you choose to celebrate remember that the theme to Mardi Gras is have a good time, so live it up!