Sunday, February 13, 2011

Mardi Gras on The Gulf Coast!



Hello Shopaholics! Hope your Sunday is wonderful!

Yesterday we attended our first Mardi Gras parade of the Carnival season! It was a small parade on Dauphin Island, but lots of fun!

A few "Fun Facts" about Mardi Gras that you might not know:

Mardi Gras originated in Mobile, AL. I know, I know. You thought it was New Orleans. It wasn't. NOLA doesn't really like to admit that, but it's true. Support from our friends at Wikipedia:

Mardi Gras in Mobile, Alabama is the oldest annual Carnival celebration in America, having begun in 1703, over 15 years before New Orleans was founded (1718). From Mobile being the first capital of French Louisiana (1702), the festival began as a French Catholic tradition, celebrating until the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday, until midnight on Mardi Gras day (French for "Fat Tuesday" or Shrove Tuesday). However, Mardi Gras in Mobile now has evolved into a mainstream multi-week celebration across the spectrum of cultures in Mobile, becoming school holidays for the final Monday and Tuesday (some include Wednesday), regardless of religious affiliation. Although Mobile has traditions of exclusive societies, with formal masked balls and elegant costumes, the celebration has evolved over the past three centuries to become typified by public parades where members of societies, often masked, on floats or horseback toss gifts to the general public, as throws, including plastic beads, doubloon coins, decorated plastic cups, candy, wrapped cakes/snacks, stuffed animals, and small toys, footballs, frisbees, or whistles.


The masked balls or dances, where non-masked men wear white tie and tails (full dress or costume de rigueur) and the women wear full length evening gowns, are oriented to adults, with some mystic societies treating the balls as an extension of the debutante season of their exclusive social circles. Various nightclubs and local bars offer their own particular events.

Beyond the public parades, Mardi Gras in Mobile involves many various mystic societies, some having begun in 1704, or ending with the Civil War, while new societies were formed every century. Some mystic societies are never seen in public parades, but rather hold invitation-only events for their secret members, with private balls beginning in November.

For over thirty five years, my family has had a float in the "Joe Cain Day" parade.  We parade on the Sunday before Mardi Gras day. A little about Joe Cain Day...again, from Wikipedia:

The Sunday before Fat Tuesday, Joe Cain Day is celebrated as part of the scheduled Mardi Gras celebrations in Mobile, with its center being the Joe Cain Procession (never called a parade). This has been called “The People’s Parade” because it is performed by citizens without being run by a specific Mardi Gras krewe. Originally, anybody who showed up at the parade start on Sunday morning could join in with whatever makeshift float they could cobble together. Eventually, the sheer size and the city's desire to have all the Carnival parades conform to the same set of rules forced the organizers to limit the participants to a preset limit. The parade is preceded with the visit of the “Cain's Merry Widows” to the gravesite of their “departed husband” (described below). And then, following their traditional toast the "Here's to Joe" the red-clad Mistresses of Joe Cain follow close behind his coal wagon moaning, "He loved us best!"


Julian Lee “Judy” Rayford established Joe Cain Day in 1967 by walking at the head of a jazz funeral, along with his beloved dog Rosie (the only dog to ever lead a Mardi Gras parade in Mobile) down Government Street to the Church Street Graveyard, where he had arranged to have Joe Cain and his wife reburied in 1966. When Joe Cain was disinterred from Bayou La Batre, Julian brought Joe Cain's skull back to Mobile in the pocket of his coat, and that is considered to be the first “passing of the feathers” to the next person to wear the headdress in Mardi Gras, as Slacabamorinico, chief of the Chickasaw.

The feathers were passed in 1970 to Fireman J.B. "Red" Foster who, attired in Plains Indian fashion, led the procession for 16 years. He then passed the feathers, tomahawk and peace pipe to author, historian, public relations, marketing professional and pastor, Bennett Wayne Dean Sr. in 1985. Old Slac IV "hisself" marked his 25th anniversary under the feathers during Joe Cain Day in 2010.

The impression that the celebration had on a couple of visitors from California resulted in Joe Cain Days being officially recognized, in 1993, as a sister celebration by the Joe Cain Society of California in Nevada City, California each Mardi Gras.

The Mardi Gras mystic society of "Cain’s Merry Widows" (a women's mystic society) was founded in 1974 in Mobile, Alabama. Each Mardi Gras, on Joe Cain Day (the Sunday before Fat Tuesday), members of this society dress in funereal black with veils, lay a wreath at Cain’s burial site in Church Street Graveyard to wail over their “departed husband’s” grave, then travel to Joe Cain’s house on Augusta Street to offer a toast and eulogy to their “beloved Joe,“ continuously arguing over which widow was his favorite.

From our "after party" last year - we always go eat dinner after the parade. Trust me, we need to soak up a few of those beverages...



We took NOLA's lead - and we love our king cakes. Slightly embarrassed to admit that we've already had two of these in the house this year, and the last one was cream cheese filled. They are "diet devils" but oh are they wonderful!

Does your hometown have any Mardi Gras celebrations? Or anything similar? It's so interesting to hear about traditions in other areas. Talk to me!

Happy Mardi Gras - it's party after party up and down the Gulf Coast - from now until Ash Wednesday! :-)

2 comments:

  1. Lori,
    I have a Fat Tuesday Feast every year and am already getting together my Fleur de lis and Mardi GRAS tableware! LOVE your photo!

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  2. Hi Lori,
    Here in Tampa we have a few celebrations that come close to NOLA's Mardi Gras. The Gasparilla Night parade is the closest. We have many Krewes that wear costumes, ride floats, and toss beads at the crowd.
    Gasparilla is the celebration of the legendary Captain Jose Gaspar and his band of pirates. It starts with a children's parade,then the storming of the city by "the pirates" with a day parade. A few weeks later they hold the night parade. The whole season closes down with the road races, a 5k and a 15k.

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