Story by Brianna Willis, Staff writer
Murray State students got a small taste of New Orleans last week when Alpha Mu Gamma hosted a small Mardi Gras celebration in the Curris Center.
King cake, beads and mask making supplies were available for all who attended. The festive mood was enhanced by traditional Creole music playing in the background.
Shortly after, students sat in a semicircle and gazed upon a projector and screen. Therese Saint Paul, professor of French, stood before the small group with photos and slides, recounting the history of Mardi Gras. Reika Ebert, chairwoman of modern languages, stood beside her dressed in Mardi Gras colors and a festive hat.
For most, Mardi Gras creates images of debauchery, but for those gathered there, the true meaning of Mardi Gras was revealed.
The intent of the evening was more than just to enjoy some cake and music. Saint Paul explained the meaning of Mardi Gras and its evolution to what many expect from New Orleans’ “Bourbon Street.” She said all carnivals, such as Carnival in Brazil or Mardi Gras in France and New Orleans, have the same intent, despite the actual practice of the holiday in different countries around the globe.
“Carnaval [France, carnival in other countries] is one of the biggest parties,” Saint Paul said. “Originating in Germany then adopted by Catholics, the celebration is meant to be a catharsis before Lent.”
For many around the world, Mardi Gras and Carnival is a time in which societal norms are turned upside down. Ebert pointed out in Cologne, Germany, there is a “Women’s Carnival” which is held the Thursday before the big celebration.
“Women go wild, and for that day women rule and take power,” Ebert said.
She used this example to illustrate the notion of Mardi Gras being a release for one day of the year. For many who are religious, it is a time to engage in behavior otherwise seen as abnormal before reflecting and giving up certain behaviors or items for the Lenten season.
“If you allow space for people to engage in prohibited behaviors, it can create a cathartic release,” Saint Paul said.
Ebert said this release can even reinforce pre–existing social norms. She said that by allowing role reversal, debauchery and other prohibited behaviors, people are more accepting of their daily lives.
For Mark Boian, senior from Lexington, Kentucky, the experience was eye–opening.
“I definitely thought it was interesting,” he said. “This is something that is world heritage and is celebrated in our own backyard in New Orleans.”
He said that events like this are important for students to attend because language is an important part of being a global citizen. Ebert believes in this as well she said. By attending events that enrich students with more than just language skills, rather cultural experiences, students can have a deeper understanding and compassion for others, Ebert said.
“If someone sees there is not only one way of relating to each other, it gives greater understanding and flexibility to that person,” she said. “You get to participate in another culture directly and that is something no one can take from you.”
Mardi Gras celebrations aid in this experiential learning process. For Ebert, celebrating together and learning new things is something all students can benefit from.
“Any society needs rituals and celebrations,” she said. “Sharing music and food is a great way to build community because you don’t even need words.”