I don’t know much about religion. Oh, I know there’s a bunch of them floating around, and most involve some sort of praying or kneeling or pretending you’re looking for a lost contact lens or something. But I’m pretty fuzzy on the actual details.
So when my wife informed me that we’d been invited to a Mardi Gras party this past Saturday night, I wasn’t sure what to think. All I know about Mardi Gras is that a bunch of cute chicks go to New Orleans, get plastered and show off their boobs for plastic beads. So naturally, to make sure I knew what I was getting into, I had a few questions:
‘Is this party in New Orleans?‘
‘Are you gonna get plastered?‘
‘Are you going to flash your boobs if someone gives you beads?‘
‘Can I flash my boobs if someone gives me beads?‘
Humph. Didn’t sound like much of a ‘party’ to me.
Evidently, my notion of what constitutes a party is only recognized by frat boys, National Lampoon writers, and Hugh Hefner. None of whom invite me to their parties. I’m sensing a disconnect here somewhere.
Meanwhile, there was that Mardi Gras party to attend. And so we did.
“Evidently, my notion of what constitutes a party is only recognized by frat boys, National Lampoon writers, and Hugh Hefner.”
We were met at the door by a small boy, maybe eight years old — a son of one of the guests, I later learned — who reached his tiny paws into a bowl and emerged with two fistfuls of plastic beads on strings for us to wear. I watched my wife carefully, as she slid them over her head and draped them around her neck. At no time did her shirt or other garments fly upward, downward, inside out or away from any of her naughty parts. True to her word, she accepted her beads with no flashing action whatsoever.
I took my beads and did the same, like a good little husband. Until my wife walked off to hang up her coat, when I yanked my shirt up over my head and jiggled at the kid. He ran off in a terror, screaming something about ‘hairy coconuts’ and ‘never eating Jell-O again’ and ‘Sunday school all over again’.
(Hey, so I know one thing about religion. Go, me.)
The first social faux pas safely out of the way, I settled in to see what this Mardi Gras business was all about. I learned that our host was, in fact, from New Orleans, and wanted to help his friends experience the traditional celebration firsthand. I also learned that the baring of breasts and the scaring of small children are not traditional celebration elements. I pointed out that they ought to be, dammit, and he said he’d look into it, but I’m not getting my hopes up. I suppose the boob ogling and kid frightening will just have to stay confined to their usual holidays, for now. That’s Spring Break and Back-to-School Sale weekend, for those of you scoring at home.
Our host went on to explain that Mardi Gras proper isn’t until Tuesday of this week, but that many areas celebrate throughout the weekend and early week, leading up to the fasting season of Lent. I asked what Lent was, exactly, and he told me that it’s a time when followers will give up something dear or precious to them, as a form of penance.
‘Oh,‘ I offered, ‘like when the dog gets sent off to be neutered?‘
I was assured that it was not like that at all. And that people stop observing Lent forty days later, after Easter. I’m sure an awful lot of dogs would have preferred that option, had it presented itself.
As the party wore on, I began to appreciate many of the other things upon which New Orleans Mardi Gras celebrations are based. We listened to zydeco music, ate tasty homemade gumbo and crawfish with red beans, and there was booze — lots and lots of booze. In other words, a preponderance of just the sorts of things that you might give up for Lent, if you’re into that sort of thing.
(I decided I’m not into that sort of thing at all. If the next bowl of gumbo or tasty hurricane I have isn’t until after Easter, I’ll be sorely disappointed. Maybe if someone else gives those up for Lent, I can sneak in and have theirs.)
The last surprise of the evening came dressed as dessert, as we were served a traditional after-dinner pastry called a ‘king cake’. Our host relayed that these have been made in New Orleans for decades now, and they’re baked with a little plastic baby Jesus figurine somewhere inside. Tradition holds that whoever gets the slice with the baby Jesus has to host the Mardi Gras party next year. He also hinted that other privileges and/or obligations might be in store for the bearer of said baby Jesus, including washing the night’s dishes.
I figured at that point, he was just making stuff up. But when my turn to get cake came, I cut myself a teeeensy little sliver of a piece. If there was a baby Jesus hiding in that thing, then that was one skinny-assed lamb of god, I’ll tell you that. Like, Jesus the marathon runner or Jesus the speak freak or something.
Luckily, I avoided the figurine. And more luckily, the cake was delicious. By the time we left, the cake was almost gone — and still no baby Jesus found. Either it was lurking in the last few wedges remaining, or someone had found it, slipped it in their mouth and swallowed it before anyone could see. I can’t say I blame them, really. Faced with a huge pile of dishes and putting on a soiree next year with all these crazy traditions, I’d probably choke down a whole mannequin to escape. Gulping a little toddler Jesus figurine is nothing compared to that.
All in all, that Mardi Gras party was a pretty great time, the lack of drunken chicks and public boobage notwithstanding. I can’t claim to know a lot more about the celebration or the religious implications, but I did pick up a little of the background, and the lingo. I’m even committed now to joining in the fun. When the time comes on Wednesday, I’ve decided to give something up for Lent. Two somethings, actually. For forty days, I’m not accepting any strings of beads from underage kids, or washing other peoples’ dirty dishes.
It’s a challenge, I’ll admit. But somehow, I’ll pull through. Meanwhile, I think I’ll order myself a couple of Jesus-free king cakes and mix up a batch of hurricanes. Mardi Gras proper is just around the corner.
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