When you hear “Mardi Gras” or Fat Tuesday, you immediately think New Orleans. Right? But for this native Alabamian, I think, Mobile, Alabama. Why, because Mobile’s Carnival celebration began in 1703; 15 years before New Orleans was even founded. It began as a French Catholic celebration beginning on or after Epiphany and culminating on the day before Ash Wednesday or Fat Tuesday (Shrove Tuesday).
This raucous and sometimes hedonistic celebration of madness known as Mardi Gras got its roots from the Christian calendar as a sort of last hurrah before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. The Christian interpretation to the ancient custom of Carnival became a time of abandon and merriment which preceded the Lenten period (a symbolic Christian penitence of 40 days) which includes the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the fasting.
The tradition of exclusive mystic societies with formal masked balls and elegant costumes; typified with parades where masked members of societies on floats toss gifts of plastic beads, doubloon coins, candy, trinkets and moon pies, has never much appealed to me. The images of Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama with adults behaving badly while under the influence of mass quantities of alcohol and causing mayhem in their drunken stupor which may become an embarrassment on future job applications, tends to lessen the appeal. The age of YouTube brings their indiscretions to an entirely different level.
One traditional food of Mardi Gras you may enjoy is the King Cake; that is, if you like pure sugar. The “king cake” takes its name from the biblical three kings. Catholic tradition states that their journey to Bethlehem took five days and that they arrived to honor the Christ Child on Epiphany. The cake has a small trinket (often a small plastic baby, said to represent baby Jesus), and the person who gets the piece of cake with the trinket has various privileges and obligation.
Although I shy away from the Mardi Gras celebrations in Mobile and New Orleans, I did attend a Mardi Gras celebration in the Town of Fairhope, Alabama, just a few miles from Mobile on Alabama’s Eastern Shore. It was great fun. I guess you could refer to it as a family friendly Mardi Gras celebration where you find mom and dad with kids in tow. They even have a Dog Parade. It’s called “Haven’s Mystic Mutts of Revelry” and it is about as cute as you can imagine.
I admit, I succumbed to the moment during the Mardi Gras parade and was right in there jumping with the best of them in my pursuit of a strand of cheap plastic beads and a moon pie. No matter where and how you prefer to celebrate Mardi Gras, “Laissez les bons temps rouler” – let the good times roll.