FAT TUESDAY 2017

THROW ME SOMETHING MISTER!

The Mardi Gras, or Carnival season, begins on the Twelfth night following Christmas and ends on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras originated from the pagan practices in ancient Rome. Christian religious leaders arriving in Rome felt it would be easier to adopt some of the local traditions instead of eliminating them all-together: more bees with honey than vinegar, so to speak.

In America, Mardi Gras began in 1699 when explorers Bienville and Iberville landed in what is now Louisiana, just south of New Orleans. This spot was named point du mardi gras and the celebration began. It wasn’t until the 1740’s that lavish balls were introduced to the festivities by then Louisiana governor Marquis de Vaudreuil. The first recorded parade took place in 1837 where masked citizens rode in carriages or on horseback under the glow of gaslight torches. The first recorded “throws” of beaded glass strands was in 1870.  I know! I know! What a mess! And then Rex arrived! The King of Carnival. A Russian duke had the honor of being the very first King of Carnival in 1872. Later, Rex established the recognized colors of Mardi Gras: purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power.

You might be thinking: What’s so special about Carnival in Louisiana, after-all, other states celebrate Mardi Gras. This is true. Alabama, Mississippi, and even Washington DC have annual Mardi Gras celebrations, but Louisiana is the only state in which Fat Tuesday is a legal holiday and it has been since 1875.

Louisiana is notorious for its festivals, hosting more than 400 annually, but none bigger than Mardi Gras. In northwest Louisiana, you can attend a glitzy masquerade ball in Shreveport, catch trinkets on the streets of Baton Rouge at the Spanish Town parade, or head to the heart of Cajun country and chase chickens in Mamou, collectively celebrating Louisiana’s biggest holiday. But, nowhere on earth is Mardi Gras celebrated bigger and better than on the streets of New Orleans.

More than one million people converge on the Crescent City every year to partake in Louisiana’s biggest party. Hotel rooms are sold out months ahead, and the Friday before Fat Tuesday, the historical hotel, the Royal Sonesta, greases the poles along Bourbon Street to keep revelers from climbing to the balconies above the street. The numerous parades that roll through the French Quarter and greater New Orleans will cover more than 130 miles – that is farther than Baton Rouge is from Lake Charles.  These parades contain more than 800 floats, 400 marching bands, 100 vehicles, 70 horses, and more than 20,000 float riders. The float riders will throw nearly 13,000 tons of beads to party-goers lining the streets, and I couldn’t begin to venture a guess at the number of women willing to raise their shirts, exposing their bare breasts, for a prized string of plastic beads. Inevitably, some garish drunk fellow will try to cop a feel, resulting in the boyfriend smashing said drunk’s head into one of the 500,000 King cakes sold during Carnival. It is rather silly to me. Why waste a perfectly good King cake over a pair of tatas?

Speaking of King cake: no trip to Louisiana during Carnival would be complete without sampling this wickedly delicious pastry. These seasonal cakes represent the king’s bearing gifts to the Christ child, and are a cross between a cinnamon roll and a coffee cake. The braided dough is laced with cinnamon and topped with a poured sugar-icing, then adorned with purple, green, and gold color-infused sugar. Other delectable fillings have emerged over the years and include Bavarian cream, strawberry-cream cheese, and my favorite, pecan-praline. Traditionally, a tiny plastic baby representing Christ Jesus is hidden inside the cake. If you get the piece of cake with the hidden baby, you are obligated to purchase the next King cake or “throw” the next Mardi Gras party.

Throws! “Throw me somethin’ mister!” Besides beads, plastic cups, and stuffed animals, a highly sought-after float throw are doubloons.  These brightly-colored coins are stamped with the Carnival krewe’s logo. Some doubloons, like those from the Krewe of Rex, are highly collectible.  The only throw more coveted than doubloons are the Zulu coconuts. Yes, coconuts. This iconic krewe has a long, and at times, controversial history. So popular are these prized painted coconuts that Ebay sellers enjoy a thriving market on the sale of these gems. Sheila Stroup of The Times-Picayune wrote a great article last February about the Zulu coconuts. I have posted the link below.

I could ramble on and on about the wildest party in the United States that ends this year in Louisiana on February 9th! But, I have a fresh pot of Community coffee, and a 24-ounce iced King cake that require my attention. Join us in Louisiana for Mardi Gras! We will surely pass a good time, and we shall laissez les bons temps rouler – let the good times roll!

LINKS:

  • https://www.sonesta.com
  • https://www.harryconnickjr.com
  • Sheila Stroup of The Times-Picayune – http://www.nola.com/mardigras/index.ssf/2015/02/zulu_coconuts_always_the_favor.html

King Cakes:

  • Gambino’s Bakery – https://gambinos.com/
  • The Ambrosia Bakery – https://www.ambrosiabakery.com/
  • Randazzo’s (Slidell) – https://www.kingcakes.com/index.php
  • Manny Randazzo King Cakes (New Orleans) – https://www.randazzokingcake.com/

2017 Parade Schedules:

  • New Orleans – http://www.mardigrasneworleans.com/schedule.html
  • Baton Rouge – http://www.mardigras.com/parades/?location=baton-rouge

 

 

  1. Michelle Turk says:

    Laissez les bon temps rouller! Love the history lesson!

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