Want to Celebrate Mardi Gras? Here are the Essentials.Wednesday, February 15, 2017
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Mardi Gras, which roughly translates into "Fat Tuesday", is the most popular time of the year for tourism in New Orleans. Thousands of visitors from all over the world visit to partake in the city-wide festivities every year. While the holiday has become known for raucous partying, the true traditions of Mardi Gras aren't as risqué, and it's celebrated all over in more family-friendly ways. Let's take a closer look at Mardi Gras traditions and history and some ways you can celebrate Mardi Gras wherever you are.
The Mistick Krewe of Comus is the oldest krewe, but since 1872 there has been a Krewe of Rex or "King of the Carnival", the most prominent Krewe. A person is chosen to serve as king every year, but must keep it secret all year until Lundi Gras, the day before Mardi Gras, and the king gets a symbolic key to the city from the Mayor.
Beads have been thrown to the crowds for over a hundred years. Their purple, gold, and green colors have been used since 1872 and hold their own importance. Green is to signify faith, purple is justice, and gold is power. The colors were chosen based on the Russian Grand Duke Alexis' royal house. Today plastic beads, toys, cups, and other mementos are tossed to the crowds from parade floats.
The Krewe of Rex wanted something new to throw in the 1950's, so doubloon coins were designed from aluminum and stamped with the Krewe's images. They were a hit and many other Krewes have followed suit over the years, making doubloons out of many materials and in many colors. Mardi Gras doubloons are still considered to be the most collectible of throws. You can find plastic doubloons online for your own celebrations.
Of course, if you want a real prize, you need to score a hand-decorated Zulu Coconut from the Krewe of Zulu (the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club.) The decorated coconuts are rare to get and have been a Mardi Gras tradition since the early '50s.
Growing up in Lacombe, Louisiana, my family celebrated by going to the more family-friendly parades in the area (yes, there are adult-themed parades), but believe it or not, it has NEVER been a tradition for women to show their assets to get throws and those who request women to do so can be arrested on the parade route. The more you know....
The Pancake Breakfast
From Wikipedia: "Shrove Tuesday (also known in Commonwealth countries as Pancake Tuesday or Pancake day) is a day in February or March preceding Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent), which is celebrated in some countries by consuming pancakes. In others, especially those where it is called Mardi Gras or some translation thereof, this is a carnival day, and also the last day of "fat eating" or "gorging" before the fasting period of Lent."
Do you really need another reason to have pancakes? Eat up!
The King Cake
King cake is another old tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages. The cake was made to represent the Three Kings that brought gifts to baby Jesus. Enjoyed throughout the season beginning on the Twelfth Night (January 6 – Mardi Gras), the pastry we know today is much different than it was in the Middle Ages. The "cake" is more of a pastry, either rolled with cinnamon butter inside the layers, like a cinnamon roll, or filled with a cream cheese or praline cream filling, and usually shaped or braided into a ring. Colored sugars in the colors of Mardi Gras are also added to the top.
Mam Papaul's makes a boxed King Cake Mix kit that comes with everything you need to make and decorate your own King Cake for Mardi Gras, even the baby.
If you're not into alcohol, you can make them booze-free and still enjoy the iconic drink. You can even get a Pat O'Brien's Hurricane Cocktail Mix to whip them up in a flash without having to track down passion fruit.
Check out my post for Alaska Cod Po' Boy Sliders with Homemade Remoulade.
You could also boil up a spicy mess of seafoods like Crawfish, Crab, and Shrimp along with small potatoes, corn on the cob, and Cajun Andouille or Boudin sausages and let everyone eat their fill outdoors. Try making "Blackened" fish or chicken dishes, or opt for a sweet breakfast pairing like Beignets (square French donuts, covered in powdered sugar) and Chicory coffee.
You can find a wide array of masks online for your own Mardi Gras party. You can buy a big package of inexpensive masks to have ready for your guests when they arrive, or plan a more elaborate Masquerade party and require your guests to come costumed in masks.
As for decor, anything goes, but keep it in the traditional purple, gold, and green colors. You can scatter beads and doubloons over tables, display masks, jester's hats, crowns, Fleur de Lis, feathers, and flowers. The sky is the limit! Check out this page on Amazon for some fun ideas.
When it comes to music, Ragtime Jazz & Zydeco genres are great overall choices, but there are also some traditional songs that are always played during Mardi Gras. Check out this list compiled by cajunradio.org for the Top 40.
Hopefully, this sheds a bit of light on the Mardi Gras holiday. It's so much more than getting drunk and watching parades! It's actually a religious-based holiday with many old traditions that date back hundreds of years and is celebrated all over Louisiana and various areas near the Mississippi Delta. You can participate in the festivities wherever you are for a fun party or even just a taste of delicious King Cake.
Would you like to celebrate Mardi Gras this year? What are your plans? I love to read your comments!