Imagine the sounds of drums and horns, of bands marching down the street, shuffling along, blasting raucous tones. Joyous tones. Think Professor Longhair and Earl King; think the Preservation Hall Jazz Band; and think also Tulsa's Mardi Gras celebrations, with all the music and dancing and eating and general partying bursting from the doors of establishments from downtown to Brookside and beyond and spilling into the streets. This odd feast gathers the sacred and profane like no other, and we have plenty of both to go around.
On Feb. 21 Tulsans are going to be celebrating in all kinds of ways -- some just for the heck of it because they like to drink and have a gay ol' time, some for religious reasons (explicit or otherwise), and more than a few for a little bit of both. For many Tulsans this will mean once again donning the purple, gold and green, the elaborate masks and headgear, and sometimes full costumes (don't forget the beads), all in a kind of Okie-Orlean style. And some Polish or English-Americans will be celebrating according to their own family traditions, more than likely mixing them with a bit of Cajun or Creole -- Paczki are pretty good after a shrimp and sausage gumbo.
Many people like to keep the original meaning of Mardi Gras in mind, which has to do with Catholics and Lent. And even if you aren't interested in such things (and perhaps you should be) it's still helpful to know, for instance, that Mardi Gras is the day before Ash Wednesday -- the day that begins the penitential season of Lent for Catholics and several other Christian churches.
The whole reason Mardi Gras got started so long ago is that during Lent, Christians fast and abstain from certain kinds of food on prescribed days. Exact practices have varied through the ages, and still do, but in ancient days meat and other animal products, such as eggs and dairy, were forbidden, as a penance, throughout the Lenten season. So Mardi Gras and the whole Carnival season started as a way to get in some last-minute pleasure (not necessarily seen as a bad thing) before beginning the rigors of Lent.
Other names for the day before Ash Wednesday reveal the cultural diversity of the feast, which is sometimes overlooked. In England it is Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day, the former referring to the custom of "shriving," or having one's sins forgiven in the sacrament of confession, and the latter referring to the traditional food eaten on the day, pancakes -- which contain some of the delights not eaten during Lent, such as butter and eggs. In Poland it is Ostatki, meaning "lasts," and the famous food eaten during the last days of carnival there is the aforementioned doughnut-like paczki. But, of course, Tulsa's main way of holding a pre-Lenten bash, whether with religious intentions or not, is to follow the lead of French-inspired, Gulf Coast culture.
Central to most of this is food. Good food. King Cakes and Beignets will grace many a Tulsan's table. Jamie Calkins, marketing director for Merritt's Bakery, said these will be available at all locations beginning Thursday, Feb. 16.
Other Louisiana-style favorites for Mardi Gras are, of course, the beautiful endless variety of gumbo, etouffee, and other Cajun and Creole dishes. One of the local experts in these and other especially Cajun matters is Cajun Ed's Hebert's Specialty Meats at 2101 E. 71st St. Besides being a place to go for ingredients when cooking at home, Hebert's is holding a special Mardi Gras party on Feb. 21, said manager De Lana Thomas. "It will go from 4pm until... whenever," she said. A Cajun band, dancing, samples from the many specialty foods available from the store and restaurant, and dinner will all be part of the evening, Thomas said.
Many people decorate their homes for Mardi Gras, especially for parties. Floyd and Lynn Hannah, owners of Ehrle's Party and Carnival Supplies, sell a large selection of decorations, costumes and accessories either for those having parties at home or for those going out to celebrate. "We have beads of all kinds, from inexpensive to expensive," said Floyd Hannah. "They can be purchased either individually, or in bulk. Many restaurants and parties from around town come for these," Hannah said. You can also find Infant Jesus figurines to put in your home-made king cakes.
Another essential part of Carnival and Mardi Gras is public celebration with parties and parades. Many churches are holding parties in the days ahead, as well as other organizations. Three big public events of note for the big celebration are the Blue Dome District Parade, the Pirate and Wench party at Enso Bar and Electric Circus Dance Club and the Mardi Gras street party on Brookside.
According to Muriel Hakim, director of community relations and marketing for the McNellie's Group, the third annual Blue Dome District Mardi Gras parade "will be a fun, family friendly, inclusive event with many businesses and non-profits participating."
The event is hosted by the Blue Dome Merchant Association and sponsored by Urban Tulsa Weekly and Oklahomans for Equality. "There will be beads, fun and businesses with specials," Hakim said. Turn Tulsa Pink, which raises awareness for women and children with all forms of cancer, will also be involved. The parade will begin at 7pm on Feb. 21 in front of McNellie's Pub, 409 E. 1st St.
After the parade, many will want to stop off at Enso Bar and Electric Circus Dance Club, 230 E. 1st St., for the Mardi Gras Pirate and Wench Party, which is also sponsored by Urban Tulsa Weekly, as well as Edge Sight and Sound, and Bacardi Oakheart. Entertainment will include the work of DJ Darku, DJ Falkirk and VJ Johnny Hazuki. There is no cover charge, and although costumes are encouraged, they are not required. The doors will open at 9pm.
Turn to Page 49 for more Mardi Gras events.
Confession times are available at masstimes.org.
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