Saturday, March 5, 2011

Don't Take Me to the Mardi Gras

"Mardi-Gras is of course a relic of the French and Spanish occupation; but I judge that the religious feature has been pretty well knocked out of it now." - Mark Twain, "Life on the Mississippi" 

Giclee Print of Vintage magazine, c. 1920
The caption to this picture reads, "Les Crepes Du Mardi-Gras' are as Traditional as Shrove Tuesday Pancakes in England."

Well, that was then and this is now. No longer are we content to contemplate the true meaning of "Mardi-Gras" which translates to "Fat Tuesday" as a time of feasting and, literally, eating rich and fatty foods in preparation for the fasting and penitence of the period of Lent before Easter. Mark Twain would be amazed at how soundly the "religious feature" has been knocked out of it.

If that poster were to be made today, the women would not be holding platters and gadgets for making deliciously rich crepes for their families, but would undoubtedly be holding bright red plastic cups filled with beer. They would be dressed in outrageously scanty clothes instead of dresses, and their outfits would not be accessorized with lovely printed aprons, but with stacks of brightly colored beads. Don't even ask how they obtained the beads.

Yes, Americans have managed to prune away the sacred from the secular of every holiday on the calendar, and Mardi-Gras is no exception. I'm just silly enough to think that every single person attending parades, throwing beads, flashing breasts, and drinking beer this weekend should be required to write a term paper on the true meaning of the occasion.  After turning in that term paper, they would then be required to actually participate in the penitence and fasting. Oh, yeah, that should effectively end the need for at least half of the porta-potties now required for the weekend.

I'm not trying to put a halt on all the wild debauchery that takes place in the streets of our cities during the days before Ash Wednesday. I'm in favor of debauchery as much as the next person. I'd simply like for people to go into the wild abandon of their senseless behavior with some sense of purpose. Is that even possible?

On the 10 O'clock news last night, one intrepid journalist ventured out and braved the crowded streets of Tripoli St. Louis to interview the rebels revelers on the scene. One young lady thought that Mardi Gras was a German beer festival, for heaven's sake. Yes, Honey, "Mardi Gras" and "Strassenfest" sound so much alike. I can see why you're confused.  Or maybe it's just the overdose of Anheuser-Busch talking.

Now I'm sounding a bit snarky, which is not what I intended for our Sunday discussion on the sacred. I'm not even a church-goer anymore, but I am a bit weary of the way we have allowed beer companies, toy companies, and candy companies to co-opt religious holidays. Is there any way to stop the madness? Has this happened in other countries?

Really. I'm asking you seriously. What should we do?

Today, I wish you a small sacred moment within the secular.

As I often say (okay, not really), I think Paul Simon has the right idea. As long as he advises us to "let the music wash your soul," I'm down with that.

Here is his take on Mardi-Gras. Be sure to listen to the very end, when the New Orleans jazz brass band takes just might wash your soul like it did mine. Enjoy!

Take Me to the Mardi Gras
- by Paul Simon

C'mon take me to the Mardi Gras

Where the people sing and play
Where the dancing is elite
And there's music in the street
Both night and day

Hurry take me to the Mardi Gras
In the city of my dreams
You can legalize your lows
You can wear your summer clothes
In the New Orleans

And I will lay my burden down
Rest my head upon that shore
And when I wear that starry crown
I won't be wanting anymore

Take your burdens to the Mardi Gras
Let the music wash your soul
You can mingle in the street
You can jingle to the beat of Jelly Roll
Tumba, tumba, tumba, Mardi Gras
Tumba, tumba, tumba, day


  1. I went to New Orleans one year during Mardi Gras. It was kind of traumatic. A lot more fun was the year I went to carnival in Trinidad. Now THAT was fun.

    People need to blow off steam occasionally, or more often than that. Purim is the Jewish version. We dress up like Queen Esther and shake rattles whenever the name Haman is pronounced during the telling of the story. At the end we cheer, then eat.

    We Jews always feast, no matter what.

  2. Feasting is fabulous. Dressing foolishly and blowing off steam is equally fabulous as often as required or desired.

    You probably don't want to come to St. Louis during Mardi-Gras, though. Unless you like the stench of beer, urine, and vomit comingling in the crowds.

    I've seen videos of Carnival...that looks like wonderful fun!

    Happy Sunday, Reya!

  3. hello Jo-Jo. You know I'm a Paul Simon lover and I've never heard that song?!!! How is that possible?

    We've never been to New Orleans but have enjoyed Bourbon Street under more moderate circumstances, still with plenty of chances for debauchery. Oh, and the Beignets in the morning after a night of feasting on Etouffee, Gumbo, Po Boys, Muffalettas and Pralines. Yum.

    Thanks for the reminder about Mardi Gras. You know our bones instinctively know the time of year, but someone usually has to remind me so my head can catch up. Happy Fat Tuesday, Madamme Dreamweaver.

  4. Ooops, I mean never been to Mardi Gras. I've been to New Orleans many times. Sorry for the double comment

  5. I've been to New Orleans at Easter but not at Mardi Gras. Your post spoke to me - when we lived in Germany we always enjoyed the fun of the days leading up to Ash Wednesday, but there was never any doubt about what was coming. Celebrating with meaning is wonderful - crazy drinking and acting out just for the sake of either is just sad.
    Loved the music today!

  6. Hi Dubby...I've been to New Orleans just once, but yes, the food was fabulous!

    You would be impressed by the beignets here in the french-influenced St. Charles area...YUM. May I suggest some cappucino with that, sir?

    Comment as often as you like, okay?

  7. Thank you, Pondside!

    I agree, it's kind of sad in a way.

    Another girlfriend expressed it differently to me this morning..."I don't want to be barfed on by anyone who does not call me mom."

    Ha! So true!

    Good Sunday to you, Pondside.

  8. Ooops! Dubby, I'm really glad you liked the music. It isn't one of Simon's best known songs, but I think it's a great one

  9. "Yes, Americans have managed to prune away the sacred from the secular of every holiday on the calendar, and Mardi-Gras is no exception." Oh, goodness, Jo, you are so right. The same thing has happened here in Canada. Saying the word "Christmas" has become completely taboo. We now celebrate "holiday". *sigh*

    We have a very diverse mixture of cultures here, and we celebrate all of their festivals -- Chinese New Year, Indian Diwali, Muslim Ramadan, Jewish Chanukah, etc., but anything Christian is a no-no.

    It breaks my heart to see how Christmas has degenerated into a frenzy of commercialism until there is no meaning to it either.

  10. Give it time, Jo. As soon as the marketers find a way, they'll have the other religions morphing into "customers" too! As you say, it is heartbreaking.

    I don't hold the religious establishment accountable, or any other ethnic or relgious group, for that matter. I don't even hold the corporations accountable...can't blame them for trying to make a profit. It's our own darned fault for accepting the pressure of the marketers who have played us all for fools...and a buck.

    We've watched the commercialism spread and have participated in it without questioning why. It's time to start asking ourselves what these days mean to us, if anything, and act accordingly.

    Thank you for your addition to the conversation, Jo. I really apreciate your viewpoint!

  11. Going to New Orleans for Mardi Gras is like going to Mexico, Grand Caymans or the Bahamas during Spring break. No, not for me.

    Great post, picture and love me some Paul Simon!

    Love and peace to you today and always...


  12. thank you for this, jo. i love the idea of a small sacred moment within the secular. oh don't we all crave that...........


  13. Oh, yes, I think we most certainly do, even if we aren't always consciously aware of that craving.

    Thanks, Amanda!


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