Mardi Gras in Marshall: Why We Celebrate Fat Tuesday

When we think of Mardi Gras, we probably think of parades, giant floats with crews rolling down the streets of New Orleans, tossing beads out to crowds of people lining the streets and hanging out on balconies. We don’t have that in Marshall, Illinois, but we do have some celebrations, and we know a little about why this is a tradition.

Mardi Gras is a Christian holiday that dates back thousands of years and reflects the promise of spring. In some cultures, it is referred to as Carnival or Carnaval. It is celebrated in countries around the globe, particularly those with large Roman Catholic populations. It is the day before the season of Lent starts, observed particularly by Catholics, and is a time of sacrifice. Thus, Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday,” gives those who choose to celebrate a last chance to indulge in some fun and frolic.

What is the origin of the Holiday?

In France, the day before Ash Wednesday, when parishioners began their fast and attended church to have ashes placed on their foreheads as a blessing, it became known as Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras is a French term. Mardi means Tuesday, and gras means fat, hence “fat Tuesday.”

As Lent approached, those preparing to fast would binge on fatty foods like meat, eggs, milk, lard, and cheese. They cleaned their homes of these foods to be ready for the weeks before Easter when they would only be eating fish and veggies. Many Catholics still observe the rule of only fish on Fridays during lent.

America began sharing in the Mardi Gras tradition and festivities on March 3, 1699, when French explorers Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and Sieur de Bienville landed where New Orleans now exists. Upon landing, they were so happy that they celebrated and dubbed the landing spot Point du Mardi Gras. This is why the Holiday is so important to that city.

Over the years since, New Orleans began growing the event with more and more street parties, masked balls, and dinner parties. When the Spanish took control of New Orleans, they were unhappy about all the revelry. They stopped all of the Mardi Gras festivities, which resumed in 1812 when Louisiana became a state.

The New Orleans parade, as we now know it, started in 1827, when a group of students danced through the streets of New Orleans, wearing colorful costumes like the ones seen on the streets of Paris. Ten years later, the first official New Orleans Mardi Gras parade happened, and it still happens every year, though Covid put a damper on it for a short while. As the years went by, the parade added marching bands and mask-wearing crews on elaborately decorated rolling floats, tossing those beads, beads, and beads.


The Tradition of the King Cake:

This popular treat dates back to the Middle Ages, reflecting the celebration of the Three Kings, who brought gifts to the baby Jesus marking the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of Epiphany. The custom is to eat this special cake throughout the season, beginning on the Twelfth Night (January 6) and ending on Mardi Gras. It is generally iced in the Mardi Gras colors – purple, green, and gold. In the 1940s, Donald Entringer, who owned one of New Orleans’ largest commercial bakeries, started the tradition of hiding a tiny baby figurine (meant to represent Jesus) by baking it into each king cake. This is usually made of plastic but has been known to be made of porcelain or even gold. Watch out, teeth! Custom dictates that whoever gets the baby in his or her slice must buy the next cake or host the next party.


Celebrate Mardi Gras in Marshall!

The Clark County Legion Post #90 is holding its Mardi Gras party on February 18. Everyone is invited to a traditional Shrimp Boil at only $20 per basket, or you can order off the menu. Dinner will be served from 5:30 to 7:45 pm, followed by music by Dicky James, who will provide entertainment from 8 pm to 11 pm.

The Legion is located at 302 Pine Street, Marshall. While it may not be a parade, it promises to be fun for all who attend.

Don’t forget about Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. If you follow the tradition, it’s time to start thinking of the things you want to give up as a sacrifice for all the blessings in your life, not the least of which is living in a great town like Marshall, Illinois.

No… veggies you hate don’t count as a good choice.

Happy Mardi Gras, Marshall!