Arroyo Seco Recreation Culture & the Arts Newsletter
Special Issue 51a 02.18.07
Hola Todos - Welcome to a special Mardi Gras edition of our newsletter. Peace / Shalom, RuthAnne Tarletz
This is not just the end of the season of Winter Festivals, but also the beginning of the Spring Festivals which begins with Carnival y Mardi Gras. So gear up for what is to come…
The Carnival season kicks off with the Epiphany, also known as Twelfth Night, Three Kings' Day and, in the Eastern churches, Theophany. Epiphany, which falls on January 6, 12 days after Christmas, celebrates the visit of the Wise Men bearing gifts for the infant Jesus. In cultures that celebrate Carnival, Epiphany kicks off a series of parties leading up to Mardi Gras.
Carnival comes from the Latin words carne vale, meaning "farewell to the flesh." Translating it in Catholic terms, it is a time of extended tolerances & a period for eating & drinking with reckless abandon
until the day of atonement—Ash Wednesday. In some traditions it is the three-day period preceding the beginning of Lent, the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday immediately before Ash Wednesday, which is the first day of the Lenten Season. In other traditions it is the entire period of time between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday. The three days before Ash Wednesday are also known as Shrovetide ("shrove" is an Old English word meaning "to repent"). The Tuesday just before Ash Wednesday is called Shrove Tuesday, or is more popularly known by the French term Mardi Gras, meaning "Fat Tuesday," contrasting to the fasting during Lent. The entire three-day period has now come to be known in many areas as Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras literally means "Fat Tuesday" in French. The name comes from the tradition of slaughtering and feasting upon a fattened calf on the last day of Carnival. The day is also known as Shrove Tuesday
(from "to shrive," or hear confessions), Pancake Tuesday and fetter Dienstag. The custom of making pancakes comes from the need to use up fat, eggs and dairy before the fasting and abstinence of Lent begins.
It is the last hurrah before the Catholic season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. It also has links to the Christmas season through the period known as Carnival. Mardi Gras, literally "Fat Tuesday," has grown in popularity in recent years as a raucous, sometimes hedonistic event. But its roots lie in the Christian calendar, as the "last hurrah" before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. That's why the enormous party in New Orleans, for example, ends abruptly at midnight on Tuesday, with battalions of street sweepers pushing the crowds out of the French Quarter towards home. What is less known about Mardi Gras is its relation to the Christmas season, through the ordinary-time interlude known in many Catholic cultures as Carnival. (Ordinary time, in the Christian calendar, refers to the normal "ordering" of time outside of the Advent/Christmas or Lent/Easter seasons.)
It's argued that the Mardi Gras tradition started in America with the French explorers, the Le Moyne brothers, in New Orleans in 1699 or when American college students returned home from Paris in the 1820s. Probably both, and the tradition has held, and today in New Orleans, Paris and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and other locations worldwide, Mardi Gras ("Fat Tuesday") means a traditional huge annual moving
celebration with parades and parties. Throughout the years the celebration has added African, Latin and Native American aspects to its French origins.
In 1699, the traditional French Catholic celebration ensued leading to what many refer to as "North America's first Mardi Gras". Over the passing decades, following their European custom, Carnival
celebrations took place in all towns and cities in the colony. Carnival celebrations became an annual event highlighted by lavish balls and masked spectacles. Some were small, private parties with
select guest lists, while others were raucous, public affairs. They continued until the Spanish government took over in the mid-1700s and banned the celebrations. The ban continued even after the U.S.
government acquired the land but the celebrations resumed in 1827. The official colors of Mardi Gras, with their roots in Catholicism, were chosen 10 years later: purple, a symbol of justice; green,
representing faith; and gold, to signify power.
In the old tradition of the feast, it was the only time of year when the poor & working class could mock the gentry & aristocracy who held power over their lives. For enslaved African Americans in pre-Civil
War New Orleans, it was a day to shed their shackles & dance with unfettered liberty---& even act as free men & women.
Like many Catholic holidays and seasonal celebrations, it likely has its roots in pre-Christian traditions based on the seasons. Some believe the festival represented the few days added to the lunar calendar to make it coincide with the solar calendar; since these days were outside the calendar, rules and customs were not obeyed. Others see it as a late-winter celebration designed to welcome the coming spring. As early as the middle of the second century, the Romans observed a Fast of 40 Days, which was preceded by a brief season of feasting, costumes and merrymaking.
Mardi Gras celebrations got their start in pagan Rome. They staged hedonistic festivals honoring the Roman deity, Lupercus, a pastoral god associated with Faunus or the Satyr. The Romans gorged themselves with carnal pleasures, wore masks, dressed like ghosts and went crazy. Fat Tuesday is thought to have come from the Pagan custom of parading the fattest ox through the streets. Pagans would wear bizarre costumes and eat, drink and have all sorts of fun that in other times would have never been allowed. When the Christians took over Rome, they attempted to make the celebration, their own and Mardi Gras became last-hurrah period of merriment and abandonment preceding the fasting period of Lent, 40 days prior to Easter. Mardi Gras is now always the day before Ash Wednesday on the Christian calendar.
Locations include New Orleans and other cities in Louisiana; Rio de Janeiro, Recife, Olinda & Salvador, Brazil; Venice and other cities in Italy; Bahia; Mazatlán and other cities in Mexico; Detroit, MI, Galveston and other cities in Texas; Biloxi and other cities in Mississippi; Mobile, AL; Pensacola, FL; St. Louis, MO; San Diego and other cities in California; the Caribbean: Aruba, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Trinidad and Tobago are some of the celebrants; Belgium; Argentina; Uruguay; Panama; Slovenia and Sweden.
And here in Los Angeles you can celebrate it at Olvera Street with a traditional style Mardi Gras in the evening and children's events in the morning. After that you can head up the 110 to Mr T's Bowl for
more celebration including live bands and a potluck.
And if you haven't danced enough at Olvera Street and Mr T's, you can continue dancing with Los Cojolites and Son Mestizo the at Avenue 50 Studio or flamenco with Mojácar Flamenco at the Temple Bar or make it out to UC Riverside for Quetzal y Son de Madera or to dance to Latin Jazz with the Susie Hansen Band at Cavallino Ristorante & Jazz Bar on Friday. Or for a quiet moment join the Mental Menudo at the Mexican Cultural Institute.