Yes, believe it or not, we actually have all four issues for '94! Of course, one of these did not contain a folklore column at all, but that's another story.

We were coming to the end of the line by 1994, and we knew it. I was working devilishly hard at other things by then, and it was clearly only a matter of time before I left the South Bay - a move all involved knew would effectively put an end to my involvement with the newsletter. Indeed, I must have sensed it was all coming to an end, as evidenced by my rather nostalgic toast to memories with which I would end this year - but I'm getting ahead of myself.

I still had a decent column or two in me as the year dawned - and upon reflection I was amazed that I had not yet gotten around to covering one of the most tradition laden holidays to be found in these United States . . .

Mardi Gras


I have often (TOO often, some would say) cited familiar holidays of modern times (Halloween, Easter, etc.) as prime examples of how the past is still very much with us, still intrinsically linked as we unknowingly reenact the ancient rites and rituals of our forbears.

For some reason, in all the years I've been writing this column, we have somehow escaped one of the prime examples: Mardi Gras.

As with so many others, Mardi Gras began as a pagan celebration of the triumph of Life over Death, as symbolized by Spring triumphing over Winter. As we have seen, Easter and May Day are both modern equivalents of this celebration, but in France, where Spring may be imagined to have arrived a bit earlier than in Germany or England, these celebrations would take place a littler earlier.

At any rate, by the time of Christ, when the Romans held dominion over what is now France, these pagan rituals had already evolved into something very like the Mardi Gras celebrations of today, complete with reveling, mask wearing, parading, and so forth. (The masks were worn for the same reason the Celts wore them on Halloween - they were thought to protect one from spirits!)

When Christianity spread through Greece and Rome, and hence to Europe, this celebration was "adopted", and just as Roman Saturnalia became Christmas, and the English worship of the goddess Eastre became the Christian Easter, so did this celebration become the harbinger of Lent, that Christian institution where, for forty days prior to Easter, one was forbidden to eat meat of any kind.

This celebration was renamed "Carne Vale" - Latin for "farewell meat". Carne Vale came to be shortened to the more familiar "Carnival", and while the more thin-blooded English limited their festivities to eating pancakes ("shroves") and calling the final day before Lent "Shrove Tuesday", the French celebrated with much Wine and Reveling, calling the day "Fat Tuesday", which translates in French to "Mardi Gras".

Mardi Gras hit New Orleans with the French at the end of the 1600's, and by 1832 the great parades we know and love today had been inaugurated.

Happy Carnival!