Mardi Gras

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Think Mardi Gras and it brings to mind New Orleans, food, parades, beads, partying, music, dancing, costumes and masks. Known and celebrated as Carnival around the world, it is actually a holiday in many countries.

Mardi Gras started as a pagan celebration of spring and fertility thousands of years ago. Christian leaders decided it was easier to adopt the tradition than forbid it. The Epiphany (Twelfth Night), celebrated on January 6 to signify the Wise Men bearing gifts for the baby Jesus, starts the Mardi Gras season which and goes until the beginning of Lent. Easter can occur anytime between March 22 and April 25. Ash Wednesday is February 18 this year and Easter is 46 days later on April 5, making Mardi Gras, translated literally in French as Fat Tuesday, on February 17 this year.

The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus took place after the Jewish celebration of Passover so it was decided early on by the Catholic Church at the Council of Nicaea that Easter would always be after Passover. Jewish holidays are based on solar and lunar cycles so the dates vary from year to year. Easter is the first Sunday after the Paschal (Passover) full moon, determined by rather complicated historical tables in 325 A.D. and modified in 1582. To make it even more difficult, our Gregorian calendar as decreed by Pope Gregory XIII, doesn’t coincide with the Julian calendar created by Julius Caesar in 46 B.C. and still followed by Eastern Orthodox churches.

The period of Lent is historically a time of prayer, fasting and alms giving and it takes a lot of partying to prepare for that period of abstinence. New Orleans hosts the most well known Carnival in the U.S. Fat Tuesday, Pancake Tuesday or Strove Tuesday derived their names from the custom of slaughtering a fatted calf on the last day of Carnival, then making pancakes to use up fat, eggs and dairy before abstaining from them. All celebrations are halted at midnight in preparation of Ash Wednesday.

The Arizona Classic Jazz Society will present the type of Mardi Gras music started in New Orleans over a century ago. There will be many opportunities to join in a second line parade on Sunday, February 15 from 11:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m. in the San Marcos Ballroom, Crowne Plaza San Marcos Golf Resort, One San Marcos Place, Chandler. Bring your own umbrella or use one of the many decorating the jazz party. Costumes and masks are not mandatory but dressing up does tend to provide a more authentic experience. Many Carnival attendees wear the Mardi Gras colors of green (faith), gold (power) and purple (justice). Beads will be given to all attendees. We also have dance floors which most New Orleans jazz clubs don’t offer. The music will be great traditional jazz provided by the Wildcat Jazz Band from Tucson, Dan Reed Jazz Band from Phoenix and 52nd Street Jazz Band from Mesa. The cost is $20 per person. For more information contact Helen Daley at 480-620-3941 or www.azclassicjazz.org.