ERROL LABORDE’S COMMENTARY:
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Halloween and our Mardi Gras share more in common than just masquerade. Both are eves of Christian holidays that concern death. Both have pagan origins, as do the days they precede. Both have been reshaped from their earlier celebrations to serve some civic purpose.
While the former is the eve of All-Saints day, a time when we are asked to remember the dead, the latter precedes Ash Wednesday, a day with the ominous message of “from dust to dust.” Halloween’s origins trace to the Celts, a tribe that believed that on the night before their New Year’s Day in November, the spirits of the dead were released to romp the land. Christianity transformed that belief into a time to remember the Saints. Carnival’s origins link to the pre-Christian celebrations of the rites of spring, popularized by the Romans and their bawdy Lupercalia.
Christianity could not get rid of the celebration so it gave it religious significance by making it into a last bash before the solemn season of Lent.
With Americanization, both celebrations would transcend their mythological and spiritual origins to include other purposes. Mardi Gras is good for tourism. Halloween has become a festive occasion for fund-raisers, including one in New Orleans that, appropriately, raises money to maintain the cemeteries.
There is something in the human psyche that wants to combine the joy of new life with the sorrow of death, just as the celebrants of the rites of spring rejoiced over the buds of spring sprouting from the dead of winter. Decline and renewal are an ongoing theme- one to be celebrated in infinite ways. In post-Katrina New Orleans, many neighborhoods are seeking their own renewal. With enough love and care, to dust they shall never go.
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