Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Mardi Gras : The Naked Truth

In honor of Mardi Gras, I am proud to revive this essay, which was the second (and final) installment of a short-lived attempt at writing an online column without the benefit of a blogging platform.

Originally posted on February 19, 2002 ; revised March 4, 2003

Well, it was a week ago that one of the best examples of mass hysteria in the world reached critical mass for another year. I'm talking about Mardi Gras, which affects natives and visitors alike when they are in this boot-shaped state (Louisiana, duh!) at the proper time. If you've never been in Louisiana during Mardi Gras, you just have no idea. Pull up a seat and let me tell you a few things.

Most of you probably think that Mardi Gras is just one day - "Fat Tuesday" if you're really in the know (I'm sure there is a reason for that name, but I'm the wrong one to ask). You are so wrong. Mardi Gras season kicks off in December. That's right, December. The weeks leading up to the big day are loaded with parties, balls, and parades. You're probably wondering why they go to all this trouble prior to Mardi Gras itself. You're not the only one. Practice? Sure strikes me as overkill. Then again, this is Louisiana and even the thinnest excuse (like removing a splinter from your finger or buying a new pair of shoes) is reason enough to have a party.

Now, what do you think of when you think of Mardi Gras? Chances are, your image consists of gaudily costumed revelers on floats in parades traveling down the streets of New Orleans, tossing trinkets to spectators and coaxing attractive females to display portions of their anatomy. And you are essentially correct. Yes, Mardi Gras is about those things, even flashing for worthless junk. However, that scenario is only one aspect of the celebration.

Mardi Gras is a Catholic holiday, a celebration prior to Lent (a fasting period where you give up something until Easter). Need I mention that not all of the Mardi Gras participants are Catholic? Most of them won't be giving up jack when it's over either. That's right, any excuse to party, even if it involves something not from your religion.

Mardi Gras is not a New Orleans exclusive. It's all over this state. Some of the rural observances strike me as...odd. For example, there are the guys who ride around on horses, extorting ingredients for their Mardi Gras feast from local residents. Then you have the "chicken run", where hapless chickens are set free and then chased all around by various folks intent on eating chicken. It's just as bizarre as it sounds, especially since the chicken chasers often dress up in costumes that look like something from a B-horror movie.

While I'm not big on the Mardi Gras shenanigans, they don't really bug me that much. It's mainly just an excuse to act stupid, drunk, and debauched. Since that sort of thing isn't really my style, I wind up being an amused observer instead. The best part is Ash Wednesday - the day after. Imagine an entire state with a hangover.

I've noticed there have been rumblings in the last few years about spreading Mardi Gras around the country. Well, that's fine and dandy, but my advice is to tread carefully. It's not all goofy outfits and exposed breasts. You may never be able to look at a chicken the same way again.

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