I work at a very touristy area in the French Quarter in New Orleans, and I was asked what was the true meaning behind Mardi Gras and I was stumped. So I am asking you.
I'm sure that you are asked this all the time by tourists who believe that Mardi Gras means parades, floats, maskers throwing beads, bands, and beer. While this is partially true, it's up to you to set them straight.
"Mardi Gras" is French for fat Tuesday. But the true origin of this wonderful day, the day before Lent, has kept scholars and historians arguing for centuries. Some believe that the roots go back to ancient time when men celebrated the fact that they had made it through the winter. And five thousand years ago the Roman poet Ovid wrote of the Greek shepherds in Arcadia who held a spring festival on March 15.
There is also a connection between the Saturnalia, the ancient Roman seven-day festival of Saturn, which was a celebration marked by unrestrained revelry and general bad behavior, and the Bacchanalia, another Roman festival characterized by riotous, boisterous, drunken festivity. The ancient Romans also celebrated the Lupercalia, a fun fertility festival that featured the sacrifice of an ox. This annual do lasted until the end of the 5th century A.D.
Then came the Catholic Church and its leaders who really wanted to do away with all of this licentiousness. They were afraid that the heathens were having just too much fun. So they decided that the pagan rituals should take a Christian turn. They would approve of a festival if it were followed by a period of fasting, abstinence and penance, which would last for 40 days and be known as Lent.
It was about 600 A.D. that Pope Gregory the Great set the ever-changing dates of Easter, Ash Wednesday and Mardi Gras. The first day of Lent would be Ash Wednesday, and the penitents would be reminded of this: "Remember, man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shall return." So there was much feasting before the fasting, and the period before Lent became known as "carnival," which comes from the Latin carnelevamen and means "farewell to the flesh."
We owe it to the French that we call the day before Ash Wednesday "Mardi Gras." It was the French that claimed a huge part of North America in 1682 and named it Louisiana after Louis XIV. Then on March 3, 1699, the French Canadian explorer Pierre leMoyne, Sieur d'Iberville was heading south and stopped at a bend in the Mississippi River. In honor of the celebration of Mardi Gras being held in France, Iberville named the spot Pointe du Mardi Gras. &127;
What are the origins of the names of North Bunny Friend and South Bunny Friend streets?
Joseph E. Friend and Ida Weis Friend had a large home that covered half a block on what is now South Bunny Friend Street. In 1924, one of their four children, "Bunny," died at age 10. Mrs. Friend donated $4,000 to a fund, which grew into more than $10,000, to create a playground in memory of her son. She also donated a block of land between Gallier and Desire streets to the city. The playground was named Bunny Friend Park, and the streets bordering the playground were later officially designated North Bunny Friend and South Bunny Friend. Mrs. Friend was an important civic and social leader during the first half of the 20th century. She served as president of the New Orleans Consumers League, the Tulane Lyceum Association, the Voter's Registration League, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Urban League, the Dilbert Memorial Hospital, the New Orleans Home for the Incurables, and many others. She received many local and national honors for her service. Among them were national awards by the American Red Cross (1946), the National Council of Jewish Women (1955), and the National Jewish Welfare Board (1959). Locally, she was chosen "Woman of the Year" by the Quota Club (1946), received the Times-Picayune Loving Cup (1946), and was honored by the New Orleans Urban League in 1960.