Thirty years ago, a new phrase became part of the local language. It was “Lundi Gras.” Previously the phrase existed, though it was hardly spoken, as a French way of saying “Fat Monday” in the same way that “Mardi Gras” means “Fat Tuesday.” There was no reason for the phrase to be spoken. The day before Mardi Gras was known simply as Monday. But then something new happened. As a byproduct of the 1984 World’s Fair, what had been the International Pavilion was redeveloped into the Rouse Company’s New Orleans Riverwalk Festive Marketplace.
For all the hoopla of Mardi Gras, not much happened on the day before, so some folks prevailed on Rex to revise the custom of arriving by river. (The transition had stopped in 1917 because of World War I.) Rex agreed, but for that to work Riverwalk had to agree to host the event on the adjacent stage at Spanish Plaza. There would be music before and after, followed by Rex and the mayor pushing down a plunger to symbolically ignite a fireworks show. Meanwhile, the Krewe of Proteus, which paraded that night, would take a right at Poydras Avenue and make a loop to be near the Riverwalk crowds. And then, someone suggested, the whole package would be known as “Lundi Gras.” What? “Lundi Gras, like Fat Monday – get it?” Mmmmmnm.
And so, as of that Mon., March 2, 1987, the day before Mardi Gras came to forever be known in the chronicles of Carnival as Lundi Gras. What was unexpected was how quickly the phrase took off. By the next year events by that name were taking place up and down the river. Soon Zulu joined in and adapted the name. Wherever Carnival was held there would be Lundi Gras-related events, even in Mobile, which stages the nation’s second biggest Carnival.
There is a certain fog that often envelops Carnival history. It wasn’t long before people identified Lundi Gras as an old custom linked to the early Rex landings. (Not so, Rex just landed.) Some would say that Zulu founded Lundi Gras – also not so. In fact, once Zulu began staging its own arrivals Rex even helped the group secure a Coast Guard craft similar to the one it had been using. For whatever was said, the truth was Lundi Gras as a popular phrase originated on the day before Mardi Gras 1987.
So, happy name day anniversary “Lundi Gras!” May you always be a cause of celebration and a reminder that the truth can be elusive, any day of the week.