In the Cajun areas of Louisiana there are ancient Mardi Gras traditions … For example, the town of Mamou makes “town gumbo” for the local celebration. Ingredients are begged from the wealthy in town. A band of masked men, especially teenage men, go door to door, rather like Wassail, or Halloween. The tradition goes back to medieval France, when, for one day, the nobility would be servants to the peasants.
Sometimes the crowd is given a live chicken, which, in keeping with self preservation, will run away across the muddy fields – with the men in chase. For animal lovers this is primitive and violent, and cause to reflect on where your food comes from. For the Cajun, it is part of their culture.
In New Orleans, an hours’-drive away and a different world, Mardi Gras began yesterday, or perhaps last week, and will go through Tuesday. Very little work gets done, unless you are a police officer with safety detail for any of a dozen parades, or you are a musician, with at least one parade a day marching six miles playing old favorites. It’s work if you are a cook, or selling trinkets on the street. It is work if you are part of the sanitation department. It is work in the hospital emergency rooms, though not as rowdy as the advertising makes it out to be.
My friends in New Orleans will finish up their costumes this weekend and march in St. Anne – a people’s parade which has no floats and nobody throws beads… well, almost nobody. The goal is to see and be seen. I met Jesus there. I met the pope. I met a bunch of pot heads with real pots on their heads. And a squad of Napoleonic soldiers, complete with cannon. A man dressed as a pipe organ. A woman dressed as a Degas painting. A man dressed as a burning opera house. And a squad of green toy soldiers.
Mardi Gras teaches us to lighten up, to celebrate, to think differently, to push the bounds of the possible. Mardi Gras reminds us of the agreements we make with reality, and how our assumptions are not universal. It is an invitation to change, to look at life from a different angle.
Here in Norfolk we are thinking about change too! The Yarmouth Gazette will be evolving in the next couple of months. Our communications staff, Susie Gullixson and Tracy Brune, produced the first of our monthly newsletters, four pages with the whole month of events and a calendar. Deadline will be mid-month, which means that committee chairs must be sure our UCN calendar has your correct meeting dates and times. Events must be planned well in advance. This goes well with our need to schedule building use at UCN as we begin sharing the facility in preparation for the move. Check the calendar and send Susie any corrections or updates! http://www.ucnorfolk.org/calendar/ As the monthly newsletter evolves, the Gazette will change too. Stay tuned!
Don’t forget to come to the Employee Appreciation Dinner tonight (Friday) and bring a dish or dessert to share! There won’t be a Mardi Gras parade, but it is a chance to celebrate.
This Sunday I’m exchanging pulpits with Rev. Andrew Millard, from Newport News. Please welcome him warmly. I will be up at the UU Fellowship of the Peninsula, talking about Mardi Gras as a model for Religious Community.
Then, at 12:01 AM on Wednesday, the New Orleans police will sweep everyone off Bourbon Street and Ash Wednesday begins.
Happy Mardi Gras,