Now let’s consider Mardi Gras just as a time to have fun. First thing to realize is that it isn’t all about breasts and beads. You can find that in the Vieux Carré of New Orleans any day of the year. Families in New Orleans know to avoid the French Quarter and the craziness of most of the city parades and go to the suburban festivities, like the parade in Jefferson Parish.
Mardi Gras in small towns and the countryside is something different. Consider the traditions in the Prairie Acadian country of Eunice, Louisiana, and surrounding towns. Riders in costume go out to the countryside and collect ingredients for a common gumbo. There’s a boucherie (barbecue), parades, and lots of Cajun music. For ten years I’ve said I wanted to go, and here it is another Mardi Gras and I’m at home.
In both places, and throughout the Gulf Coast, you can find the ubiquitous King Cake, in stores from Epiphany to Mardi Gras. Inside is hidden a tiny plastic baby, symbolic of the search of the three kings for the baby Jesus.
When I was at Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary, I learned of the German traditions of Pennsylvania. There the day is called Shrove Tuesday, and the traditions are simpler. There would be fastnachts (a kind of doughnut) in the coffee room at the seminary, and Prof. Richard Nelson would host a pancake supper at his house.