History of Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras, literally meaning, "Fat Tuesday", in French, is the celebration of excesses a few days before the Lenten season of sacrifice and abstinence which begins on Ash Wednesday.
We refer to the season as Mardi Gras here in the US, but much of the rest of the world refers to this celebration as Carnival. The word Carnival comes from the Latin words, "carne" and "vale", meaning farewell to the flesh. Carnival kicks off January 6, twelves days after Christmas, with the Epiphany. Epiphany is Christian feast day that celebrates the visit of the Wise Men bearing gifts for the infant Jesus. In cultures that celebrate Carnival, Epiphany kicks off a series of parties leading up to Mardi Gras.
During Mardi Gras, party goers revel in colorful parades, balls with dancing and carousing, celebrations with copious amounts food and alcoholic beverage. But from where do these traditions stem? Fat Tuesday, literally comes from the tradition of feasting on a fattened-up calf that is slaughtered on the last day of Carnival. The day is also sometimes called, "Pancake Tuesday", for the past custom of making pancakes from the need to use up fat, eggs and dairy before the fasting and abstinence of Lent begins.
Mardi Gras Food
King Cake, taking its name from the tradition of the Three Kings visiting Jesus, is served during the Epiphany. The origins of King Cake are said to come from France and the round, colorfully decorated cake is served with a small plastic trinket or baby inside that is said to symbolize the Baby Jesus. In the past, a coin or bean was hidden inside the cake and the discover of the hidden treasure was said to have good luck during the following year. The roundness of the cake is said to symbolize the circular journey that the wise men took to visit Jesus. The cake is colorfully decorated with the official colors of Mardi Gras; purple, a symbol of justice; green, representing faith; and gold, to signify power.
Fasnachts is an English name for a fried doughnut served traditionally in the days of Carnival or on the day before Lent starts. Fasnachts were made as a way to empty the pantry of lard, sugar, fat, and butter, which were traditionally fasted from during Lent.
Angel Wings are pretty much the same as the tradition of serving pancakes to use up fat and other ingredients before Lent. Dough is cut into small strips and fried then covered with sugar.
Moon Pies are a traditional parade throw in Louisiana during Mardi Gras. They are chocolate covered graham cracker cookies layered with marshmallows in between. They became a traditional throw in Mobile, Alabama in 1956.
Berliners are a traditional pastry of North Germany and are similar to doughnuts without the hole in the middle. Berliners are usually filled with jelly or cream. The tradition of serving them around the Mardi Gras season is similar to the making of pancakes and Angel Wings in order too use up excess fat and other ingredients for the abstinence of Lent.
Collop is a slice of meat and in Elizabethan times, "collops" came to refer specifically to slices of bacon. Collops are usually served on Shrove Monday, the day before Fat Tuesday, which was traditionally the last day to cook and eat meat before Lent.
Malasadas are a Portuguese confection, made of egg-sized balls of yeast dough that are deep-fried in oil and coated with granulated sugar. In Portugal, malasadas are eaten mainly on Terça-feira Gorda, Fat Tuesday, which is also the last day of the Carnival of Madeira. The reason for making malasadas, like the tradition of making pancakes, berliners, angel wings and the like, was to use up all the lard and sugar in the house, in preparation for Lent.