By Nur-Taz Rahman
The Mardi Gras celebration is believed to have evolved from an Ancient Roman festival of “Lupercalia” around theSecond Century. On February 15, this circus-type festival would be observed to honor the Roman God by the name of Lupercus – the pastoral God.
When Christianity was introduced in Rome, Church officials found it appropriate to preserve certain aspects of the Mardi Gras rituals instead of abolishing it altogether. Thus Mardi morphed into a period of abandon and merriment before the beginning of Lent.
The Lenten period is a Christian custom, marked by 40 days of penitence, beginning on Ash Wednesday, and ending with Easter. The time of Mardi Gras, however, is celebrated with feasts at which participants would be dressed with masks and other fancy costumes. From Rome, the tradition of Mardi Gras gradually spread to other European countries.
According to popular belief, the French explorer Sieur d’Iberville brought the tradition of Mardi Gras to America in the year 1699. Others believe that the Mardi Gras was brought to New Orleans in the year 1827, by a group of students fresh from school in Paris. Apparently they put on strange costumes and danced their way through the streets. The New Orleans inhabitants were intrigued by the students’ jovial activities, and started to follow them. Still others contend that the Mardi Gras celebrations began when the early French settlers arrived in Louisiana.
In any case, the New Orleans’ Mardi Gras celebrations became more elaborate between 1827 and 1833. Now it has culminated into an annual Mardi Gras Ball. “Mardi Gras” is an originally French phrase that translates to “Fat Tuesday” in English. The name signifies that it marks the day before Ash Wednesday, the last day prior to the long fasting period of Lent.
Today, Louisiana’s Mardi Gras is celebrated not only in New Orleans, but also in several cities and towns in the United States, as well as in the neighboring Gulf Coast Region. Obviously, Mardi Gras is all about celebrating with food, and typical Mardi Gras spread includes, but is not limited to, the typical Southern rice and beans; Muffuletta, a typical French sandwich; Louisiana Maquechoux, a vegetable side dish cooked in the skillet; chicken, shrimp, and sausage jambalaya; creole pralines, an intensely sweet dessert made of buttermilk and pecans; and of course, King cake.