Beads, Moon Pies, King Cakes & Region 8...It's a Mardi Gras Celebration!

February 8, 2005 – Posted at 8:46 a.m. CST

JONESBORO -- It's one of the biggest partying days of the year…Fat Tuesday! Folks are celebrating Mardi Gras across the world, with some of the wildest parties in Rio de Janeiro, France and of course, New Orleans, Louisiana. But, did you know that the term Mardi Gras is actually French for Fat Tuesday? It's also known as Carnival Tuesday.

The common perception of Mardi Gras is as one big drunken party complete with girls gone wild, and it probably is in some places. But there's more to the festivities than just beer and beads, and you might be surprised to learn that it's actually religion.

It's one heck of a party....the last opportunity to indulge in food and drink before the temperance of Lent.

"What it is, is a celebration. I guess you might say of our human coming out," said Victor Stepka of the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, "We're going to get ready for 40 days of fasting and looking at our lives and how we respond to God's call. This is one last fling fore we get into the Lent season."

And boy is it a fling! Mardi Gras traditions developed in Europe during the Middle Ages as part of the ritual calendar of the Roman Catholic Church.

"It probably began with the Catholics that moved in from France, or at lease they stole it from the French and took it into the Louisiana area, and of course now it's spread to dances with kings, queens and clubs and things like that. So it's probably become a non-Catholic entity, as it began being Catholic," laughed Stepka.

But where does the term 'Fat Tuesday' come from?

"What is has to do, what it began, was to use up the food that would either spoil or that they didn't want to eat and they would be cleaning out the pantry in anticipating of a period of fasting for the Easter season," said Stepka.

The date for Mardi Gras can fall anywhere between February 3rd and March 9th, depending on the lunar calendar used by the Catholic Church to determine the date of Easter. However, it will always be exactly 47 days before Easter Sunday, and fall the day before Ash Wednesday.

If you can't make it to the party in New Orleans this year, you can celebrate right here at home. All you need are some beads, cups and Moon Pies.

Mardi Gras first showed up in America in 1699. Back then, folks were just happy to be celebrating the period of abandon and merriment that preceded the penance of Lent. But today, it's an excuse to eat, drink and be merry!

"Happy Mardi Gras!" yelled Golden Grotto owner Larry McIlvoy.

If you're going to celebrate Mardi Gras, you gotta' look the part. And there's plenty of stuff to choose from.

"We are selling mainly beads, boas, decorations, hats, masks. Just your typical Mardi Gras things, including several costumes," said McIlvoy.

Jonesboro's Golden Grotto party store is stocked up on all of your Mardi Gras accessories year round. Apparently it's a popular look…

"A lot of Mardi Gras sales are done after Mardi Gras in this part of the country, because of parties and prom themes and things like that," said McIlvoy.

In 1872, the King of Carnival Rex chose the Mardi Gras colors. He picked gold, green and purple and every year since, they've been quiet the fashion statement. Gold stands for power, green for faith and purple represents justice…and together, it's one hot look! Even on food, especially King Cakes.

"We sold 120 last year, and we've already sold 80 this year. Now we are having to make our own again," said Carrie West, manager of Hay's Bakery.

The tradition of King Cakes began as a way to commemorate the day the three kings arrived from the east to honor the Christ child. Today, they're available at your local bakery.

"These are a seasonal product in our store. We start these usually two weeks before Fat Tuesday," said West as she busily sprinkled green, gold and purple sugar on a King Cake.

Each cake has a plastic baby, and whoever finds it is not only king or queen for a day, but also has to buy the next cake.

"It's the story that if you get the baby you are supposed to have good luck all year," said West.

But if you don't get the baby, don't feel bad. At least you saved money.

"We have people that have moved here from Louisiana that have said they buy this for $45 to $50 a cake," said West, "We make them here and sell them all day long for $5.99."

Believe it or not, Mardi Gras has been cancelled before in the United states. During 1918, 1919 and throughout the First World War. But it's defiantly alive today!