[king]What’s under all those beads? If you’re in New Orleans, the answer is probably not very much. Mardi Gras, which literally means “Fat Tuesday” in French, is rich in history, tradition and religion. It is a time to celebrate and gorge on paczki or King Cake before Lent, a 40-day religious period of repentance and self-restraint. Mardi Gras, which is always 47 days before Easter Sunday and the day before Ash Wednesday, falls on Feb. 8 this year.
The debauchery that most people associate with Mardi Gras was derived from ancient Roman celebrations. When Rome became Christian, the Church incorporated pagan rituals into the religious observance of Lent to make converting an easier process for the every day Roman. Mardi Gras as a colorful, exuberant party made its way to the new world through New Orleans by way of French explorers in 1699. The official colors for the celebration, which date back to 1872, are purple, green and gold and represent justice, faith and power. Mardi Gras itself is represented by the boeuf gras, or “fattened bull.”
[pastry] The treats associated with Mardi Gras may even surpass the richness of the festival’s history. King Cake is the epitome of scrumptious symbolism. The twisting circular shaped cake represents the unity of faiths. A small plastic baby is hidden in the cake symbolizing the discovery of Jesus’ divinity by the Magi. The person that discovers the baby is rewarded with good luck and must host the next party. Sadly, not everyone wants to serve as future host and the poor baby is left abandoned in crumbs and frosting.
Polish pre-Lent festivities are filled with, well, jelly. The day before Lent is also known as Paczki Day, especially for the large Polish communities of metro Detroit. Paczkis don’t skimp on taste or calories; one pastry alone contains about 420 calories and more than 25 grams of fat.
After a day stuffed with paczkis, the religious significance behind the Mardi Gras celebrations kick in with Ash Wednesday, followed by the 40 days of Lent. Father Mark Inglot of St. John Student Parish said Lent is about “new life on the outside in nature while new life is coming about spiritually on the inside. People generally look forward to Lent as a sort of ‘spring cleaning.’” Traditionally, Lent is a time when people “give up” something, such as chocolate or smoking, with Sunday being a “free” day.
While pre-vet freshman,Kristi Lobodzinski still doesn’t know what she will give up for Lent, she appreciates the meaning of the 40 days. “It’s kind of religious, and we believe that is when Jesus died and rose. We give him something in appreciation for that.”
If you’re looking for a way to, as they say in New Orleans, laissez le bon temps rouler, or “let the good times roll” before the season of Lent, check out The Riv, Ricks and Beggar’s Annual Mardi Gras Progressive Party. Appetizers, beads, a full-course meal and drinks are included for $25. The bar crawls are at 5:30, 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. on Tue., Feb. 8. Rum Runners celebrates Mardi Gras on Saturday, Feb. 5.

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