When I moved South a few years ago, I was surprised at what a big deal folks make of Mardi Gras. I knew it was an institution in New Orleans, but I had no idea that the entire Deep South pretty much grinds to a halt for four days. We didn't get a day off on President's Day, but most citizens are enjoying an extended weekend to take part in Mardi Gras festivities.
The great irony is that most of them are Southern Baptists ("don't drink, don't dance, don't run around half naked"), and not Catholics (who observe the liturigcal calendar that includes Ash Wednesday and Lent, which spawned Mardi Gras...).
"Fat Tuesday" started out as a day to use up all the extravagant foodstuffs in the home before the austerity and fasting of Lent began on Ash Wednesday. Folks were to roast all their meat and enjoy the gravy before a month of bread and vegetables. It has evolved into an NC-17 secular celebration of excesses in places like New Orleans, where a lot of folks won't go for fear of being shot in the street if things get too wild.
In small town South Mississippi, though, things are pretty low key. Every little community has a parade, where "Krewe"s (organizations that put on Mardi Gras parades or balls) convert trucks or buses into parade floats, play music from loudspeakers, and throw strings of irridescent beads at watchers along the route.
Churches, Lion's Clubs, Shriners, and any other community association you can think of host plate suppers where you can have a piece of King Cake. School classrooms and office break rooms are awash in King Cakes from Twelfth Night (the twelfth night after Christmas and the beginning of the Carnival season) through Mardi Gras.
For those of you who don't know...a King Cake is a circular coffee cake laced with cinnamon and iced in purple, gold, and green. It is circular to portray the route used by the kings to get to the Christ Child, which was taken to confuse King Herod. A small plastic baby is hidden inside the cake, to symbolize the Christ Child. The person who gets the hidden piece is declared King for the day and is expected to carry on the carnival festivities by hosting the next King Cake party.
It sounds like a lot of innocent fun on a small town scale, but I haven't been able to gear myself up to attend a parade this season. Mountains of homework and clinical rotations haven't helped; on my days off I usually just want to rest. I'm not sure what else is contributing to my "blahs" this year. I think that part of me feels like it's wrong to celebrate excess, when excess is what got our economy to the sorry state it's in. Excess ruins a lot of lives on an individual scale, too, but that's another story. And fact of the matter is, we just have way too many Mardi Gras beads kicking around the house.
So to all those in my small town who love Mardi Gras, forgive me for having the Mardi Blahs. I love y'all, and I'm not being a stick in the mud. Have a piece of King Cake for me now, hear? I'm gonna get back to my studying.