Mardi Gras Madness

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Mardi Gras 2004 is Feb. 24. This is a traditional holiday celebrated in many of the southern states of the USA. The most famous celebration takes place in New Orleans, La. The people there enjoy this celebration by going to parades where they catch "beads, doubloons, cups, and trinkets" that are all thrown from floats.

They have masquerade balls and dress up in costumes for these events. King Cakes are eaten during this holiday. Mardi Gras is known as the "biggest free show on earth."

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Homemade Mardi Gras celebrations can be as extravagant or as simple as the hosts want -- the ultimate goal is to have a great and memorable time.

Although Mardi Gras refers to a specific day, it isn't a single-day celebration. The term Mardi Gras encompasses a much longer period of celebration leading up to Fat Tuesday. Every year, the season of Mardi Gras, or "Carnival," begins on January 6, the Twelfth Night feast of the Epiphany. According to Christian beliefs, the Epiphany is the day that the three kings, or Wise Men, visited the Christ Child. The Carnival season runs for several weeks and culminates at midnight on Fat Tuesday, the final day for merrymaking before Lent begins. Loosely translated, the name carnival means "farewell to flesh" from the Latin words carnis (flesh) and vale (farewell).

While historians believe Mardi Gras has pre-Christian origins, traces of Mardi Gras traditions date as far back as the middle of the second century. In mid February the ancient Romans celebrated the Lupercalia, a circus like festival not entirely unlike the Mardi Gras we are familiar with today. At this time in Rome, the Lenten-like period, a season then called the Fast of 40 Days, was preceded by several days of feasting and revelry. The Romans donned masks, dressed in costume, and enjoyed all the pleasures in life to the fullest.

When Rome embraced Christianity, the early Church fathers decided it was better to incorporate certain aspects of pagan rituals into the new faith rather than attempt to abolish them altogether. Carnival became a period of abandon and merriment that preceded the penance of Lent, thus giving a Christian interpretation to the ancient custom.

Mardi Gras came to America in 1699 with the French explorer Iberville. Mardi Gras had been celebrated in Paris since the Middle Ages, where it was a major holiday. Iberville sailed into the Gulf of Mexico, from where he launched an expedition up the Mississippi River. On March 3 of 1699, Iberville had set up a camp on the west bank of the river about 60 miles south of where New Orleans is today. This was the day Mardi Gras was being celebrated in France. In honor of this important day, Iberville named the site Point du Mardi Gras.

The French in New Orleans were having private masked balls and parties in 1718. When the Spanish government took over, parties and street dancing were banned. It wasn't until 1827, when Americans were in power, that the right to party in mask was restored.

During the 1850s, the city's elite and their elegant Mardi Gras parties were quite a contrast to the wild partying and near-rioting in the streets. It was soon clear that all celebrations were in danger of facing another ban.

In 1857, a group of men formed a secret society called the Mystick Krewe of Comus. They knew that Mardi Gras could be preserved with planning, organization, and management of the celebrations. Comus planned the first parade around a theme and used flambeauxs to light the procession. The Krewe of Rex formed in 1872 -- principally to entertain the visiting Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff of Russia.

Since America didn't have royalty to properly welcome the Grand Duke, the men in Rex created a King "for the day" so the Grand Duke could be royally received.

The official colors for Mardi Gras are purple, green, and gold. These colors were chosen in 1872 by the King of Carnival, Rex. He chose these colors to stand for the following:

  • purple represents justice
  • green stands for faith
  • gold stands for power

New Orleanians have since formed a lot of secret societies that have served many charitable and social functions. They often help unite the city with their parade's political themes. In 1877, after a brief interruption from the Civil War and the unrest that followed, the Krewe of Momus held a parade with the theme "Hades, a Dream of Momus" to ridicule President Grant and his Administration. During the Persian Gulf War, the theme for many parades and costumes was patriotism. In order to catch Mardi Gras throws, many parade-goers fashioned nets with a cardboard face of Sadam Hussein saying "Hit Me!" Mardi Gras is pretty sassy, too!

Mardi Gras can even poke fun at itself. The blacks of New Orleans mocked the snobbishness and exclusivity of Rex with their own parade. In 1909, William Storey wore an old tin can for a crown instead of the more elaborate crown Rex used. William was crowned "King Zulu" that year, and was proceeded by "Provident Prince" and the "Big Shot of Africa." Donning black face and white eyes is another irresistible pun of the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club. Zulu's parade would meander from barroom to the barroom in junky cars and wagons instead of floats. If you wanted to catch the start of the parade, you had to find the bar that was extending hospitality to King Zulu. This Krewe didn't establish a parade route until recently. Today, Zulu, with its beautiful modern floats, is one of the more popular parades of the season! They are known for their unique, hand-decorated coconut throws. Only a fortunate few are lucky enough to get those!

New Orleans Mardi Gras began in 1837, the year of the first street parade. The first day of the Carnival season is always Jan. 6 (which is twelve days after Christmas). This is called the Twelfth Night and marks the beginning of the private masked balls that are held until Mardi Gras Day. The Mardi Gras parades consist of floats holding the krewe members, who throw doubloons, beads and other items to the people lining the streets. Many "parade-goers"either wear a costume or purple, green and gold when attending the parades, and scream "Throw me somethin' Mister!" to the krewe members on the floats. Marching bands and celebrities on floats are also included in the parades. Mardi Gras Day (which is always Fat Tuesday), is the last day of the carnival season. Many of the largest parades are held on this day.

This year, the New Orleans Mardi Gras parades started Jan. 3, there have been 32 of them held since then and Feb. 17. Today, Feb. 18, through Fat Tuesday, Feb. 24, 47 more will be held.

It might be a little late to get a flight and places to stay are pretty minimal by now, but that doesn't mean you can't have a Mardi Gras celebration of your own.

For a start, consider the Mardi Gras King Cake.

The king cake is a traditional desert in Louisiana for the Mardi Gras. The king cake has a texture that is between a coffee cake and a sweet bread and is called a brioche. The cake is usually an oval ring, and covered with powdered sugars in the official Mardi Gras colors.

The king cake is believed to be a tradition carried over from France in the 1870s. Sometime around the twelfth century in France they began to celebrate the epiphany, which occurs Jan. 6, twelve days after Christmas. This was the date the wise men said to have visited the baby Jesus in the manger and present him with their gifts of gold frankincense and mur.

The ring shape of the cake is to symbolize the circular route the wise men took to confuse King Herod on their return trip.

This edition includes a recipe for a King Cake and some alternatives, plus traditional New Orleans fare.

Mardi Gras in New Orleans is known as the biggest party in the world.

Re-creating this world famous event is a great theme for any party. The colorful colors of Mardi Gras, purple, green and gold, will decorate your party room for a memorable and festive occasion.

Steps to a Successful Mardi Gras Party

Step 1: Planning

  • Send out Invitations

Remember to indicate on the invitation that this is a Mardi Gras Party and that guests should wear official Mardi Gras Colors - purple, green, and gold! As the host, you'll want to be decked out in all your Mardi Gras finery -- a MG Cap, or accessorize with beads, or for a really fun look, try a feather mask!

  • Select a Menu - See Recipes

Decide when, where, and how you are going to serve the food. New Orleans is known for its "good eats," and you can certainly "jazz" up the evening with some Cajun eating! Continue your Mardi Gras theme when decorating your tables with purple, green and gold.

  • Mardi Gras Decorations and Atmosphere

A party without music is like New Orleans without the French Quarter -- incomplete. Beads are really versatile -- besides wearing them, you can also decorate with them! Hang them from ceiling fans, furniture, anywhere and everywhere.

  • Make it known where the party's action is with a Mardi Gras flag. People will know they're at the right place when they see the crisp purple, green, and gold hanging at your party destination!
  • String up the magical mood of carnival when you hang up a light set over your partygoers in the purple, green, and gold colors of Mardi Gras.

Step 2 - The Party

  • Arrival of Guests:

Welcome Guests and give each a strand or two of beads to wear around their neck to get them into the Mardi Gras spirit

Create an air of mystery and give each guest a Feather Mask when they come. It's fun to unmask everyone later in the evening and see who all the mystery people are.

Step 3 - Clean Up

Mardi Gras Party Checklist

Right now

1. Select date.

2. Mardi Gras items are currently available at the Party Place Plus on W. Bonita Street. The story is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday

3. Create guest list for the party

4. Send invitations that include: Date of party; Time: (starting, ending); Place

5. Plan and select decorations, party favors, centerpieces, door prizes, etc. Many economical alternatives are available.

6 Plan and select costumes, masks, beads and doubloons

7. Plan the menu

8. Prepare grocery list

A few days before the party:

Call any guests who have not responded

Buy groceries and beverages

Make your King Cake

The day of the party:

Decorate

Prepare and arrange remaining food

Dress in costume and be festive

Have a great time!

Have fun!

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