Most people assume that, since we live in Louisiana, we celebrate Mardi Gras. We don't, but I thought I'd include some history about Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras is French for "Fat Tuesday" and is the day before the first day before Lent, Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras is also called Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day. Mardi Gras itself is the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, although the term in New Orleans is used to describe the period of weeks between The Twelfth Night (January 6th) and Mardi Gras Day.
My favorite part of Mardi Gras would be the King Cake. It is NEVER served before January 6th OR after Mardi Gras Day. My very favorite place to buy a king cake is a little donut shop in Baton Rouge called Jay's. They have a blackberry and cream cheese king cake that is to die for! The king cake is in honor of the Wise Men who came to seek Jesus. It is iced with purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power. Inside is a little plastic baby that is to remind the king cake eater of the One True King who came as a Baby. Whoever gets the slice of king cake that has the baby inside must host the next king cake party. When I was a working woman, the very first Friday king cakes were in the stores, our supervisor would buy a king cake. Whoever got the baby brought a king cake next Friday. We loved king cake season. Click here for a recipe for a king cake, although you can't make it until January 6, 2009. :^D
Anyway, most people think about New Orleans and the parades when they think of Mardi Gras. It has been so long since I've been to a parade - there is too much debauchery for me to have any desire to go to a parade. And I don't like fighting traffic - another reason not to go. We have parades here in our town and in other towns nearby that are much more family friendly, but I still have no desire to go. They throw plastic beads that I just toss in the trash later anyway. I figure I'm skipping a step.
However, one Mardi Gras tradition that I think is very neat (but I've never seen in real life) is the Courir du Mardi Gras - French for "Running of the Mardi Gras." It is held in a VERY small, Cajun town called Mamou. Masked riders on horseback, led by Le Capitaine, ride around the countryside gathering ingredients for a communal meal - usually gumbo. Le Capitaine obtains permission from a homeowner to come onto their property, whereby the "Mardi Gras" - all the riders - sing or dance and beg for ingredients for the meal.
Nowadays, this is all scripted, even the homes to which they visit, and the ingredients given are for show, as the meal is being cooked ahead of time by others. But the homeowners will give a chicken, usually tossing it into the air so it will fly and start to run and the Mardi Gras riders must give chase, usually over a flooded rice field, so they end up a muddied mess. In late afternoon, they make their way back to the town center and prepare for the evening meal.
Another thing I think is neat is how they end Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street - police on horseback come at exactly midnight with big street sweepers and That's The End, Folks, of Mardi Gras for that year. In my opinion, the police and street sweepers need to go down Bourbon Street more often at midnight. But that's just my opinion. :^)