Many people mistake Mardi Gras as just one day of the year. It is true that there is one day known as “Mardi Gras,” however there is also a “Mardi Gras Season.”
Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday.” The day of Mardi Gras is the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Most everybody knows about all the fun and parades that happen on that day. However, this is a religious background to the partying.
It was common for people to fast from meats during the season of Lent. Being that when this first started, there was not great refrigeration and storage, the people had to figure out a way of getting rid of the meat. Rather than just throw it away, they would have a big party on the day before Lent and all the people would eat lots and lots of food. Thus, it was “Fat Tuesday.”
However, the Mardi Gras season starts on January 6. The night of January 6 is 12th night (yes, as in “On the 12th day of Christmas my true love gave to me, twelve drummers drumming). It is when Epiphany starts.
Epiphany is the celebration of when the wise men found the child Jesus at the house with his parents. Then, the rest of the season of Epiphany celebrates Jesus baptism and some of his ministry before Lent starts. Lent still focuses on Jesus ministry a bit, but it really focuses on His teachings about His death and resurrection. It then ends with Holy Week, which is about Jesus’ death and completely ends with Easter, when Jesus resurrection is celebrated.
The date of Mardi Gras is completely dependent upon the date of Easter, just like the date of Ash Wednesday. (Mardi Gras is always 47 days before Easter; Ash Wednesday is always 46 days before Easter.)
Then, many may have heard of King Cake. It’s a cake baked in the shape of a circle or an oval. It may or may not have a filling and usually has white frosting and either frosting or sugar of green, purple, and yellow. A small plastic baby is inside the cake. The person who finds the baby is supposed to bring the next cake to the group. Then, with the very last cake, the person who finds the baby is called the king or queen. If the group meets yearly or every Mardi Gras, the king or queen often has to bring the cake for the next Mardi Gras season.)
The baby symbolizes Jesus. Calling the person a king or queen comes from the incorrect assumption tat the wise men were kings.
The throwing of the fake plastic or metal coins, cups, and beads, comes from a time when the whole area known as the Louisiana purchase was owned by the Spanish. They would get all dressed up in the finest clothes and during hard times have a parade among the poor and
be a little bit kind by throwing coins, known as doubloons. The tradition was kept with all the parades that are held on Mardi Gras day.
The colors of Mardi Gras are purple, green, and gold. A bold yellow is often used in the place of gold. These colors were just chosen by a person and do not have religious or historic significance.
Purple stands for justice. Green stands for faith. Gold stands for power.
So, there is much more to Mardi Gras than meets the eye.