Mardi Gras is a very famous holiday, which most Americans associate with the city of New Orleans in Louisiana. It is originally a Roman Catholic tradition celebrated the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Lenten season. This year, Mardi Gras landed on Tuesday, February 28th, 2017. Mardi Gras is also known by many other names: Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Tuesday, Boeuf Gras (“fat bull”) or Carnelevare (Latin for “to cut off flesh”), which was transformed into Carnival in places like Brazil. Nevertheless, Mardi Gras - or whatever name you know it as - is a holiday that is widely celebrated, but without much regard toward the history behind it.
Looking at historical records, the farthest Carnival can be traced back to is clear back in the Roman nations. It was a Pagan festivity, in which they would celebrate fertility as the season of spring would come about. This holiday was so popular that when Pagans were converting to Christianity, it was impossible to get rid of it. Leaders decided to alter it to fit the teachings of the church so that the traditions of that culture could continue on. Mardi Gras was a time where it was encouraged to celebrate in excess, to be gluttonous, or act in any way one wished before the Lenten season. The purpose for which was to indulge before practicing self-restraint during Lent, where one is to cut herself/himself off from something she/he enjoys, but is not typically good for the body, mind, or spirit. This ‘something’ could range anywhere from cutting out a type of food or not watching television for the forty days before Easter, a Christian holiday celebrating Jesus rising from the dead.
While Mardi Gras was celebrated clear back in Roman nations, it was most notably celebrated in medieval Europe, especially around France, and was brought to the Americas and other European settlements by French explorers. The most famous French explorers known for bringing Mardi Gras to the Americas were the Le Moyne brothers, Iberville and Bienville. The brothers helped colonize what is known as modern day Louisiana. The two brothers arrived in the Americas in 1699 and landed on the day of Carnival, which was a cause for celebration and thus is the beginning of its history in the Americas. The celebration was merry for obvious reasons as they reached their destination and had an excuse for debauchery. They declared the spot as Point du Mardi Gras, which is near modern day New Orleans.
Today the holiday does not typically center around religious meaning like, it did to the Le Moyne brothers, but the basis of it still holds true, which is to bring people together, increase commerce, and sense of a community. Mardi Gras is a time to celebrate life and relationships with both new and old friends. It boosts the sense of community in the areas like New Orleans, Louisiana or in the Soulard Historic District in St. Louis, Missouri. Whether you are in St. Louis or in New Orleans, people congregate to have a good time and focus on the positives in their lives. This past Saturday, Soulard had their annual Mardi Gras celebration, which I had the opportunity to experience with the locals. Most of the time is spent watching the parade or walking aimlessly, just spending time with people surrounding you. It was easy to bump into other S&T students and alumni, which is always a happy surprise, but I also made quite a few new friends along the way. Getting people out on the streets and opening the windows of apartments to interact with those in the streets seems silly to some people, but it is an old fashion way of meeting new people and making friends. Even small interactions, like waiting in line for a restroom, can create new connections with those around us. For me, I made friends with some girls behind me by talking about how the men were taking so much longer than the women. Those who associate with S&T, typically, have had similar interactions during another event similar to Mardi Gras, known as The Best Ever St. Pat’s.
St. Pat’s for Rolla, Missouri, specifically for the S&T community, has a few similar traits to Mardis Gras celebration in that alumni and friends come to Rolla from all over the place, bringing commerce and networking opportunities to our small town. Similarly, the manner in which St. Patrick’s Day was altered to fit Rolla’s culture is comparable to how the Pagans altered their Boeuf Gras traditions upon converting to Christianity. St. Patrick is considered the Patron Saint of Engineers for teaching the Irish to build arches from calcium carbonate mortar, a fact that was used as the foundation to create an annual break and celebration for the S&T students. The idea was instigated by a secret group led by George Menefee, our first “St. Pat.” On March 17th of 1908, a large portion of the students, specifically the senior class, ditched their classes to congregate at Grand Central Station. To everyone’s surprise, it was eventually declared a university holiday and evolved into celebration that we know today.
Overall, both Mardi Gras and our beloved Best Ever St. Pat’s should both be appreciated for what they are, a time for community, commerce, and homage to religion and culture. They both have religious origins, having started out as religious holidays, but have changed over time to fit popular belief, giving us all an excuse to live life to its fullest. Even though we all come from different cultures and backgrounds, we should respect how much effort and time people spent on making sure we can have a good, carefree time, so celebrate! Celebrate being alive as the trees wake up and spring nears, and be sure to cherish those around you.