I write this column on Fat Tuesday, the final day of carnival season that's better known as Mardi Gras. This year, the day is also dubbed Super Tuesday in honor of 24 state primary elections and caucuses that will make or break various presidential campaigns.
The confluence of two long-time traditions on one ordinary weekday is a fun break from the ongoing winter drab. The two events have a bit in common besides the date.
There are color, pageantry and screaming people involved in both Mardi Gras and the presidential races. There's history, rules, schedules. Some flexibility. Kings, queens, overtaxed immune systems. Lots of kids. Someone will get hurt. And by midnight it'll all be over.
The celebration of Mardi Gras goes back hundreds if not thousands of years, though in its modern form it's connected to the Catholic season of Lent. Fat Tuesday is always the day before Ash Wednesday, the first of 40 days that lead to Easter Sunday.
Tradition has it that Lent is a period of sacrifice for Catholics in order to prepare to mark the death and resurrection of Jesus at Easter, and so Mardi Gras was created as a pre-Lenten way to blow off steam and "fatten up" before the crackdown.
In the U.S., celebrations are pretty much restricted to the former French Catholic colonies in southern Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
Our political system has traditionally chosen the final presidential candidates of both parties through an elaborate primary season, which pushes the wannabes out to practically every state in order to contest mini-elections. The process culminates in party coventions in the summer, at which time the state delegates haggle and debate and finally choose their respective torch-bearers.
In the current election cycle, however, the parties and certain state officials got impatient with the old-fashioned one-state-at-a-time approach and rushed to move their primaries toward the front, hoping to suck up more attention (and money). And so we ended up with a national primary election of sorts on Super Tuesday, with delegates being chosen from Alaska and California to Georgia and New York (though not Ohio, Kentucky or Indiana).
In New Orleans at Mardi Gras, each major parade krewe has a certain slot: Endymion on Saturday, Bacchus on Sunday, Orpheus on Monday, Zulu and Rex on Tuesday. No one's in a hurry to squish everything into Fat Tuesday -- there's joy in taking your time and letting the end of the carnival season wash over you in waves.
Of course, that might just be New Orleans, where they operate under a completely different sense of time and space year round.
One of my favorite Mardi Gras sayings is from an old-line krewe whose motto in Latin translates to "While we live, let us live." With all the excitement around Super Tuesday, perhaps the presidential hopefuls might appropriate the sentiment: While we vote, let us vote!
And then we all start fasting on Wednesday.
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