History of Mardi Gras, dates and colors

Have any of you wondered why Mardi Gras is never on the same day each year or about the colors used for Fat Tuesday? After doing a little research on the holiday, this is what history dictates.

When is Mardi Gras?

The fluctuating date of Mardi Gras was established by the Catholic Church which designed the Gregorian calendar with a fixed date for Christmas, but with moveable dates for other religious holidays. Easter, which can fall on any Sunday from March 23 to April 25, is set to happen with the first Sunday after the full moon which follows the Spring Equinox.

Mardi Gras is always scheduled 46 days preceding Easter. (The 40 days of Lent plus six Sundays.

The carnival season officially opens on the Epiphany, Jan. 6, which is 12 days after Christmas and ends on Mardi Gras, the Day before Ash Wednesday.

The colors of Mardi Gras

In 1872, the king of New Orleans’ carnival King Rex selected the official colors of Mardi Gras (purple, gold and green). They were probably selected simply because they look good together. Rex assigned a meaning to the colors in 1892 for his parade entitled “Symbolism of Colors”; purple represents justice, green represents faith and gold signifies power.

King cakes

The history of the King Cake begins in the 12th century France where the cake would be baked on the eve of Jan. 6 to celebrate the visit to the Christ Child by the three Kings. A small token was hidden in the cake as a surprise for the finder.

French settlers brought the custom to Louisiana in the 18th century where it remained associated with the Epiphany until the 19th century when it became a more elaborate Mardi Gras custom.

The cake is circular in shape to represent the unity of all Christians.

This sweet bread is richly decorated in bright colors representing a bejeweled crown to remind us of the three Kings.

The baby hidden in the cake speaks to the fact that the three kings had a hard time finding the Christ Child and of the fine gifts they brought.

The person finding the baby is traditionally obligated to supply the next King Cake at a Mardi Gras celebration.

The cakes are available at bakeries all over South Louisiana, but only on Jan. 6 through Mardi Gras.

Carnival Krewes

Krewes are private clubs which are financed by dues and fund raising projects.

The Mardi Gras krewes name royalty to reign over their private balls and dress in costume to throw trinkets from floats during parades. In Kaplan, the Krewe Chic-A-La-Pie began in 1952.

Courir du Mardi Gras

The rural Mardi Gras celebration, the Courir du Mardi Gras, dates back to the earliest days of the area’s settlement and is still considered a rite of passage for many young men of the area.

With its roots firmly in the medieval tradition of ceremonial begging, bands of masked and costumed horse back riders roam the country side “begging” for ingredients for their community gumbo. “LeCaptaine”, a caped but unmasked captain, stops his revelers at a distance while he approaches with a white flag and asks permission for his riders to enter the owners’ property.

If permission is granted, the captain lowers his flag and the riders charge towards the house.

There, they dismount and proceed to dance and sing for live chickens an other donations such as rice, onions and flour to be used in the gumbo.

The captain and his group of masked riders return to town in the late afternoon with their loot. The day’s festivities usually end with a fais-do-do and lots off gumbo for everyone.

Acadia Parish Today

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