Mardi Gras: An Experience

As a Catholic, the two most important days of the Catholic calendar are Christmas and Easter. The forty days and nights leading up to Easter is a time known as Lent. The forty days are spent  celebrating, fasting, giving back and reflecting on the final days of Jesus’ life. All over the world, people celebrate in English what is called Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday.

Growing up, I attended Catholic school where we were told to give up something and chose an act of service for the Lenten Season (I always gave up ice cream and told my priest that I’d help out my mom with the dishes more). On Fat Tuesday Individuals are suppose to engage in eating a lot of rich foods before fasting begins the next day.

Last year I studied abroad in Europe where I had the opportunity to celebrate the European version of Fat Tuesday, known as Carnival in France and Switzerland. This past weekend I traveled down south to experience Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana.

After attending four different celebrations for the start of the Lenten Season, I find it extremely interesting how through one religion the day is celebrated so differently.

In elementary school, it was a very formal affair. We attended mass, preformed the stations of the cross and were handed a pair of plastic beads without really learning the meaning of them.

In France, people filled the streets wearing Venetian style masks and fun hats throughout the parade. Whereas when I was in Switzerland, there were not many floats but the music was a huge part of the celebration. The European celebrations were much more focused on religious aspects of Mardi Gras, where as the floats in New Orleans brought all cultures together and were much more political.

Over the weekend in New Orleans, I’ve never experienced something so magical (yes I’ve been to Disneyland). Imagine the biggest, craziest parade you’ve ever been to, multiply it by 100 and that doesn’t even begin to describe how amazing and creative the celebrations in Louisiana were.

Mardi Gras is such a huge cultural and communal experience, so much so, schools get a whole week off to celebrate. Parades are constantly going throughout the day over various parts of the city. People travel from all over to celebrate Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

In Louisiana, there are no barricades like all the other parades I’ve been to. The people who are on the floats in the parades are selective and throw all types of items into the crowd, such as beads, cups, toys and other desired items, such as decorative purses and shoes. While in New Orleans I finally got to learn more about the history of the beads. The Mardi Gras colors are purple, green and gold. Purple represents, justice, green faith and gold power.

I had an experience of a lifetime down in Louisiana and I can’t wait to go back one day!