Mardi Gras crosses cultural boundaries

Feb. 8, 2005

By KATIE HORNSTROM, reporter

Mardi Gras, literally translated Fat Tuesday, began as a Catholic tradition in Medieval France. Today Mardi Gras is celebrated across both cultural and spiritual borders, even at Baylor.

"It's a tradition for the Italian Club, Le Cercle Francais, and the French Wing to hold a Mardi Gras celebration," Patricia Gravatt, assistant professor of French and director of the French Wing, said. "It is also a tradition in France and Italy and we try to bring French and Italian culture to Baylor and share our traditions with American students."

The Italian Club and Cercle Francais are organizations that explore the culture of Italy and France. The French Wing is a group of students who choose to live close to each other in order to explore the French language and culture.

Throughout Europe, including both France and Italy, large carnival celebrations take place, including costumed figures, parades and huge parties. The Italian Club, Le Cercle Francais and the French Wing plan to hold the Carnevale/Mardi Gras party today from 6:30 - 8 p.m. in the Dawson Residence Hall drawing room.

"We will have decorations, food, different activities, music and we hope to teach a renaissance dance," Gravatt said.

Mardi Gras is actually the last day of carnival, a huge celebration that begins at the Epiphany or Three Kings Day, when the three kings actually arrived for the birth of Jesus Christ. Often people use the term to refer to the entire celebration usually beginning at the Epiphany and leading to the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday.

Lent is the period of 40 days before Easter where there is typically a penance like giving up an earthly desire in order to come closer to Christ. The tradition of Lent is typically observed by Catholics. Not all Christian traditions participate in Mardi Gras celebrations and today the parties and celebrations have become largely secular.

"I think that the parade and the floats are amazing. So much time and preparation goes into the event," Jessica McLeod, a Houston senior, said.

New Orleans is the site of largest Mardi Gras celebrations in the United States, although other major cities, particularly Texas cities along the Louisiana border, have Mardi Gras celebrations as well.

"Mardi Gras is such a widespread event. I have been to Mardi Gras events in Galveston, Port Arthur, Bourbon Street and Fat Tuesday in Austin. There seems to be a riot squad in uniform on every corner," Liz Strebel, a League City junior, said.

Many of the traditions celebrated today date back at least a century. The traditional purple, green and gold Mardi Gras colors found on beads and Mardi Gras souvenirs in New Orleans were chosen in 1837. Purple is a symbol of justice, green represents faith and gold signifies power. In the French Quarter of New Orleans, Mardi Gras ends at exactly midnight with street sweepers pushing the masses out.

"Mardi Gras can be fun as long as you know your boundaries," Amber Garza, a Round Rock freshman, said.

In New Orleans, traditional masked balls and feasts have evolved into massive parties in the streets of the French Quarter. However a central theme of the celebration is still food. A popular traditional food is King Cakes, a cake ring symbolizing the three kings with a small plastic baby hidden inside to symbolize the Christ child and the lengths the kings went to hide his location.

"King Cake is one of the best tasting cakes I've ever had. It's so much fun trying to find the little baby," Megan Sullivan, a Garland sophomore, said.

Today Penland cafeteria will let students join in on some Mardi Gras recipes.

"One of the Lacrosse coaches from Louisiana last year introduced us to the idea for this year. We intend to do King Cakes and a special menu for Mardi Gras, depending on the foods we have available," Carlos Ollison, service manager at Penland, said. "We intend to have a good time."

Penland will have a Mardi Gras theme complete with beads and the special Mardi Gras based menu during lunch, from 10:45 to 3 p.m. Ollison hopes to have people dressed up.

"Usually when we have a special for students its really fun," Pearl Ortiz, Penland greeter, said. "I really enjoy myself."