Saturday, January 06, 2007

Mardi Gras Season Begins

Twelfth Night is now upon us. Although the Christmas traditions have the Magi arriving, there is another reason why this date is significant. It is the beginning of the Mardi Gras season.

Many people are under the impression that Mardi Gras is just a single day. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is an entire season that stretches from Twelfth night until the day before the start of Lent.

One of the interesting aspects of the Mardi Gras season are the various traditions that apply only during this time of year. One tradition concerns so-called 'King Cakes'. In Southern Louisiana almost any bakery will sell this kind of cake. The cakes are very sweet (I actually do not like them much). The are usually topped with purple, gold and green icing, as these are the colors that have become associated with Mardi Gras. The purple, it is claimed represents royalty. The gold represents money, or good fortune and the green represents fertility. When King Cakes are sold, they come with a small plastic baby. The tradition is that the baby is hidden somewhere within the cake. Whoever gets the piece of cake with the baby in it, then becomes responsible for buying the next king cake.

Another curious tradition concerns the song "La Chanson de Mardi Gras". This song is often claimed to be one of the very oldest in the Cajun music repertoire. It has a haunting melody and, unusually for a Cajun song, it is in a minor key. The odd thing about this song is that it is almost never played outside the Mardi Gras season. Indeed, it is believe to bring bad luck, if it is played at other times of the year. A brief portion of the song, as performed by Zachary Richard, can be heard here. This song is the very theme tune to Mardi Gras and gets played with increasing frequency as the season progesses. On Mardi Gras day itself, the refrain can be heard in many versions, coming from all directions.

The lyrics of the song describe a number of the Mardi Gras rituals performed in Southwest Louisiana. As the Mardi Gras season progresses, I will describe some of these colorful traditions here. In the meantime, for those who read French, here are the lyrics of the song.

La Chanson des Mardi Gras

Les Mardi Gras se rassemblent une fois par an
Pour demander la charité.
Ils se rassemblent une fois par an
Tout à l’entour du grand moyeau.

Capitaine, capitaine, voyage ton flag,
Allson aller chez nos voisins.
Capitaine, capitaine, voyage ton flag,
Allons se mettre sur le chemin.

Les Mardi Gras demandent rentrée
A chaque maître et chaque maîtresse.
Ils demandent la rentrée
Avec toutes les politesses.


Donnez nous autres une petite poule grasse,
Oui ou bien un peu de riz,
On vous invite de venir ce soir
Manger du bon gombo.


Voulez vous recevoir ces Mardi Gras,
Cette grande bande de grands soulards.
Les Mardi Gras vous remercient bien
De votre bonne volonté.


Les Mardi Gras viennent de tout par tout
Pour demander la charité.
Ils se rassemblent de tout par tout
Mais principalement de Grand Mamou

The CP


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