Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Mardi Gras is the celebration that is held on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Some places have not only parades and costumes, but special food such as pancakes or crepes. In New Orleans the "King" cakes are famous. It is a way be aware of the season of Lent that begins tomorrow, Ash Wednesday. Lent used to be a forty-day fast, but now the Church asks Catholics to fast only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday; in the United States Catholics also abstain from meat on all the Fridays of Lent.
When I was a Freshman in college a group of us decided to go to New Orleans for Mardi Gras week end. We took the bus and rode all night. I had my Aunt Jo meet me at the bus station with her husband, Bob, who was a Colonel in the Army and stationed there after the war. They both had interesting lives and had toured Europe where Bob was in charge of ordering supplies for the army's PX stores; they had also been stationed on an island in the Pacific where my Aunt Jo was one of the few wives to join her husband and the conditions were so primitive that a visiting General said that the officers whose wives had been out there with them were to take advantage of the supply boats that went back and forth from Japan to get a bit of rest and relaxation with their wives. Anyway, I had a marvelous week end and met with my college friends for the parades where we were invited to ride in a truck; I went to one of the balls as my uncle had a special invitation; the others stayed at our school in New Orleans called the Rosary. I went over there, too, to see one of my favorite nuns. We decided not to go back by bus but take the train overnight to St. Louis. We were able to get a drawing room on the train by pooling our money. On the way to the station, my aunt and uncle stopped to get me a "Poor Boy" to eat on the train and my aunt pressed a couple of dollars into my hand just before I boarded. I found the others crowded into the drawing room and starving. No one had even a penny left! They devoured my sandwich and spent my money for chips and we spent the night reliving our experiences. When we arrived at Union Station in St. Louis early on Ash Wednesday, we piled into a cab and asked the driver to wait while we went in to borrow money from the nuns to pay our fare. The Father of one of my friends who was a bank executive never got over the fact that we did not ask him to wire us money but came home without a cent. It was an adventure and I still remember some things vividly and so am sharing them with you today. It was my first visit to New Orleans and I saw so many interesting places; when I went back to teach there as a young religious, we were cloistered and so I could not go out to see anything so I was grateful for that Mardi Gras trip!
I did not know about the pancake tradition but asked my community last night and one said it was to use up the flour before Lent! I suspect that there is more than that to the tradition, but I had not heard of it until I went to look up an image for Shrove Tuesday and found many pictures with stacks of pancakes and plates of crepes!
Not a very spiritual reflection today, but tomorrow begins an important season of self-denial and Mardi Gras is one way of preparing ourselves for the Lenten season!