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Thursday, February 23, 2006 | It’s official, Mardi Gras has practically arrived (Feb. 28). Yeah. Wooohooo. Time for raunchy bead throwing, sinful escapades and plenty of out of control drinking, right?

I think not.

The history of Mardi Gras is being demolished, destroyed – annihilated. As someone from a younger generation I feel I can vouch for the annihilation as I have witnessed the true lack of appreciation for this wondrously colorful time of year. Granted, new traditions are always welcome; but when it’s a drink fest, and revealing body parts for beads – even I can attest Mardi Gras is losing its meaning.

Acknowledgement of the day’s truths rest in the hands of Christians celebrating their last hurrah before fasting begins on Ash Wednesday to start the 40-day season of Lent. Its roots lie in the past, to a time so very long ago.

Mardi Gras is the culmination of two weeks of the Carnival season, which in case you never got clued in, is a time of merriment prior to Lent. For Catholics, this is a time to prepare for a period of “giving something up” along with abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays throughout the season.

I’ve always taken this as a time not to give up something as important to me as indulging in chocolates, rather I go out and do things for the common good. Yes, I become a do-gooder’s do-gooder and 40 days later, not including Sundays, Easter arrives.

Literally translated in French, Mardi Gras means Fat Tuesday. Although in Western Europe it is more commonly called Shrove Tuesday, with a few references to Pancake Day.

Before running away from your computers and wondering what religion has to do with pancakes, take into consideration that the custom is due to the need for religious folk to use up Lent’s “forbidden” fatty items before the holy season kicks in, plus this is more a custom in European countries. Imagine that. The batter of pancakes – eggs, flour, milk and salt had hidden symbols that although not always known, were used to represent the creation, the staff, purity and wholesomeness of life.

A strong French influence is forever present during Mardi Gras, thanks to those colonists who opted to pass on the traditions and settle in southern Louisiana. Celebrations range around the globe, with many countries taking part in one way or another, some with more lavish celebrations than can be imagined.

Mardi Gras is about the colors of green, gold and purple, as crazy as they may be once combined, dominating costumes, and the joyful jubilation of people cheering in the streets watching parades, attending masquerades and embracing when on a common ground we meet to have a good time.

Personally, it can be the meeting of strangers from different walks of life, who for one night are together tastefully taking in all the hoopla. It can be personal festivities of food, drink and entertainment in the comfort of your home. But in the end, I believe it is knowing that the time to fast is near and one of the most passionate seasons, religiously, sits on the cusp… waiting for midnight to arrive. After all, at midnight, everything comes to a halt.

Mardi Gras is euphoric, baby.

Mardi Gras especially associates itself with the tingles of our taste buds. From the Cajun cuisine of crawfish etouffee, jambalaya and shrimp creole to king cakes (which are also a part of Three Kings Day and have a plastic baby inside), pancakes and rectangular doughnuts (for the Dutch in Pennsylvania), food is an important ritual of the day.

But here in San Diego, what do we know about a true Mardi Gras celebration? I could say nothing, but that would be wrong. I could say we aren’t remotely related to New Orleans, but the families that have settled into this place we call home after Hurricane Katrina would probably say otherwise.

Although quite disconnected geographically from two of the largest known Mardi Gras carnivals in both Rio de Janeiro and the city of New Orleans, San Diego does have a connection to Mardi Gras and the customs of the occasion.

Inspired by traditions and culture with a splash of Cajun, our town is revving up for the San Diego Brazil Carnival 2006, which will take to the streets in the Gaslamp on Fat Tuesday, Feb. 28, while Little Italy prepares for their 3rd Annual Carnevale (Feb. 25) in hopes of rejoicing in the pre-Lenten celebration by way of Venetian costumes, prizes and entertainment.

So, get up off that couch and go get cultured.

Betsy Lopez Fritscher is Voice’s editorial assistant. Please contact her with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips at

Or send a letter to the editor here.

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