For a lot of folks around Little Traverse Bay, the notion of Mardi Gras involves fun at Nub’s Nob, or stories of the Petoskey High School Steel Drum band venturing to New Orleans.
Mardi Gras, however, is much, much larger than our little neck of the woods, with origins that predate even the founding of the United States or a good deal more American history.
A few fun facts about Mardi Gras:
- Carnival is the season, while Mardi Gras is a single day in the season. Mardi Gras is traditionally celebrated the last Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, which marks the 40 days of Lent on the Christian calendar.
- America’s first Mardi Gras may well have been celebrated in present day Mobile, now part of Alabama though in 1703, a hundred years before the Louisiana Purchase, the city was the capital of Louisiana. By the 1730s Mardi Gras was openly marked in New Orleans, still the epicenter of Mardi Gras in the United States.
- Parades are a key part of the celebration. New Orleans boasts as many as 75 parades through the Carnival season. The parades include more than 800 floats, each averaging 50 feet in length, ferrying 21,000 float riders.
- Beads, first glass and now more likely plastic, are a central souvenir of the season. Float riders throw more than 12,500 tons of beads each year, predominantly in green, gold, and purple, colors associated with the celebration since the 19th century.
- Paczki are now synonymous with Fat Tuesday, the last day of Carnival. The sweet treats are traditionally Polish but epitomize the yearning for something sweet before the Lenten traditions of cutting back. Filled with jellies and traditionally a splash of Polish vodka, Paczki disappear nearly as fast as they appear, gobbled up not only by those abiding the call to cut back, but also by eager eaters everywhere.
For local enthusiasts, one of the best ways to celebrate Fat Tuesday is with a dozen (or more) these traditional Paczki. Clayton Brown and his skilled crew at Johan’s Pastry Shop in Petoskey have perfected the Paczki, as well as a number of other sweet treats, making this your perfect Fat Tuesday destination. Originally concocted to use up all the leftover sugar, butter, and lard, as well as other sweets, Paczki are Polish by origin, but are now commonly associated with Mardi Gras, via Fat Tuesday. They are particularly popular in the Midwest, owing to the region’s large Polish-American heritage, but also now found anywhere folks have a sweet tooth.
Whether you celebrate Mardi Gras as the traditional start to the Lent season, or you simply enjoy a good party, make plans to include some Paczki. But don’t be late, because while the bakery will turn them out by the gross, they never last and you don’t want to be left out.