In the last blog I wrote about some of the more simple, less costly elements of life on the High Plains as compared to the Deep South. Folks, I have to tell you, however, that when January 6 comes around every year, I’m reminded how much more fun life here can be.
I’m talking about the Mardi Gras celebration, which starts on 12th Night, January 6, the end of the holy Christmas season and the beginning of the revelry that continues through Mardi Gras Day.
In my growing up years in the High Plains, January-February meant cold, wind and snow. Those three things characterized life during those two months. I remember walking to school as a teen, wearing a skirt or dress, nothing on my legs, shins frozen solid, more or less, with the biting wind cutting through my whole body.
As a kid in the early grades, the memories are about snowsuits, leggings and boots and waddling to school. The memories also include getting frostbitten while sledding on the slippery slopes of the neighborhood. We’d go inside once in a while to run cold water on our fingers and toes before covering up again to go one more round!
Playing in the snow had its moments, but it was nothing like what goes on during Mardi Gras. Here even the youngest kids have costume parades and parties with great food, including king cakes, frosted with the traditional colors of gold, green and purple and hiding tiny pink plastic babies.
Started in Mobile, Alabama, the Mardi Gras celebration was imported from South America and Europe where partying during the six weeks from 12th night to Ash Wednesday was the tradition. In Nebraska we had Valentine’s Day – that was about it.
In the cities and towns that observe Mardi Gras, however, it’s all about partying and parades. Those events call for fabulous costumes and floats that create excuses to miss work and spend the day along the parade route to catch thrown trinkets and later to continue the party on the streets or at dances.
The big parades in the cities roll for several weeks, preceded by a lot of float building, dinners, cocktail parties and dances hosted by the various krewes. A Mardi Gras krewe is a group of folks who form a club to host parties, name royalty and sponsor floats.
In some places these krewes are exclusive by invitation only; in other places, not so much – they are more community groups, open to those who want to join in and help sponsor the activities.
The main areas of Mardi Gras celebrations are the areas in closest proximity to water – the Gulf Coast – in the Deep South. These areas were settled by French and Spanish settlers, and in Louisiana, Acadians from Canada. The religious culture is Catholic.
In spots like Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where I live, the traditions are different. One of the krewes here was started by a group of Country Club folks who wanted to party. Another was started by a fraternal order for its members. Neither group sponsors any parades, so there is not much sharing with the community.
Believe me, the community versions are the best. I’ve participated in celebrations –fasching — in Southern Germany, where the parades have political overtones and the partying is mighty. (You VILL haf a goot time!) Marching groups include singing clubs, bands and clubs that parody some notable figure. Not a lot of work gets done in the cities that celebrate – folks are maybe not on vacation but they aren’t at the office a lot either.
If you can, I recommend going to the Gulf Coast during the last two week of Mardi Gras season and see some of the big parades that roll. Hang around for the street revelry that follows. Get in the spirit while you can because nothing is more over than Mardi Gras when the clock strikes 12 that Tuesday night.
In the meantime, “laissez le bonton temps roulez!”