Marti Gras – image on Flickr.com
Marti Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday”, the day before Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is the Catholic Christian practice where a cross of ashes is placed on a worshiper’s forehead on the Wednesday in the seventh week before Easter. Marti Gras is also called “Shrove Tuesday” in English in which people believe they will be Christianity forgiven for their wanton; carnal actions during the ruckus on the carnival. On “Fat Tuesday”, people eat a lot of highly fatty foods before starting the religious observances associated with Lent. Some people fast for a day during Lent; which is the Christian season of preparation before Easter. Lent lasts for 6 weeks. Easter, also called Pascha or Resurrection Sunday is a festival and holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
With Marti Gras, even though that day pertains just to the festival day of Fat Tuesday; celebrations start weeks or even months before. Here, the early celebrations leading up to Marti Gras pertained to the ancient Roman pagan festival of Saturnalia that honored the sowing god Saturn, and was held every December 17th to December 23rd. Saturnalia was a period of general merrymaking and was the predecessor of Christmas. During Saturnalia, there were public sacrifices, gift giving, gambling, banquets. and the wearing of a cone shaped hat called the Pilleus.
During Marti Gras, there is a huge outdoors celebration involving parades with fancy, sophisticated, artistic floats and their crews, as well as many street observers wearing masks and strange costumes.
Marti Gras Day or Fat Tuesday was formed for two major influences since ancient times. The first influence was the festival of Lupercalia. Lupercalia was held every February 15th(the day right after Valentine’s Day which is observed every February 14th), within the Roman Empire. Marti Gras Day for the current year of 2017, is celebrated on February 28th. Every year, Marti Gras is celebrated on a different date.
Lupercalia was a festival to drive away demons, purify the city, bring health and fertility. This jubilee; this carnival incorporated Februa, an earlier-origin spring cleansing ritual held on the same date that gave the month of February (Februarius) its name.
But Lupercalia would deal with the worship of some type of wolf Goddess since in Roman legend, Romulus and Remulus, who founded Rome, were suckled by a female wolf. Also, Lupercalia dealt with the sacrifice of 2 dogs and a goat, and the worship of the goat, flute playing satyr god Pan.
The second main influence between Marti Gras Day was the idea of enjoying a day of great physical pleasures before the start of Lent, a time of religious Christian reflection and extreme self denial. During Marti Gras, males would engage in sex with females. People would eat lots of rich, high calorie foods, get drunk from alcoholic beverages, and get so-called high from drugs. On Lent, the religious minded individuals would refrain from all the pleasure endeavors practiced on the day and night before. Some people would even fast for a few days during Lent.
On Marti Gras, people would wear various costumes and often times masks.
The costumes represent individuals, especially mythical or supernatural individuals the people personally respected or even sometimes want to be in real life, on certain occasions. Masks were worn to conceal a person’s identity when the person did not want community folks to know who the person is, when he or she is performing irrational, wild, or sexually lewd behavior. There have been cases where murders and great physical violence have occurred during Marti Gras.
With some individuals, strange costumes are a way to make people feel they are great; majestic royalty or supernatural beings that walk the earth, as they have their fun in their acting. And mask wearing adds to their mystique.
All in all, the participants of the carnival of Marti Gras regard it’s as a magical like time; a very special; highly enjoyable and very materialistic time of the year.