Monday, December 23, 2013
Christmas as Prelude to Mardi Gras
One of the best things about growing up in New Orleans was that holidays were more or less continuous. Christmas is a good example. After a few weeks of pre-Christmas season, which was a time of religiously-sanctioned amping up of excitement (called Advent in the Catholic church that set the Medieval tones for year-long festivity), Christmas day itself arrived with a bang and then quickly seque-ed into Mardi Gras, which went on for a good long time of parties and parades and good things to eat.
Today Jesse was playing around with our little wooden manger scene, which I made out of an old broomstick and some rags when we were living in New Orleans the year my second baby was born and I had a whole year off of work to spend with my three year old and my newborn. I was making a wooden farm set for M, who was the big boy, and I made little cows and pigs and horses and sheep out of lengths of the broomstick, which I painted with acrylic paints. I had some leftover broomstick, so I decided to make a manger scene for under our Christmas tree, which was what you did in New Orleans.
A manger scene had to have a Mary, a Joseph, a Babyjesus, a few shepherds, maybe an angel, and the three kings. The kings were very important, because they were the ones that provided the story element that became Mardi Gras. We would set up our manger scenes with the three kings some distance from the main action, and every day we would advance the kings an inch or so. They needed to arrive at the manger on January 6, the Feast of the Three Kings, the day we ate our first King Cake.
King Cake was not only delicious but each one contained a Babyjesus, sometimes made of china, sometimes made of rubbery plastic, and whoever got the baby in his or her piece of cake became the king or queen. The king or queen then selected a queen or king to partner up with in throwing the next week's king cake party. King Cake parties went on for weeks, usually around 6, until the final day, Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras involved a double school holiday, It was always on the Tuesday that was 40 days before the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. Monday was a holiday so everyone could get ready for Mardi Gras.
So even though we can find the occasional king cake here in Asheville, it's NOT from McKenzie's bakery in NO, and even though there's usually a little parade on Mardi Gras eve or evening, it's nothing at all like real Mardi Gras, which in New Orleans is actually a season, closely tied to Christmas and closely related to Lent and then Easter. A nice rhythm of feast and fast, feast and fast, linked to the moon and the seasons.
Well Jesse likes to bat the manger people around, so I painted him in walnut ink while he rested up from defending us from Ghengis and the evil shepherds.