Mardi Gras in Mobile, Alabama is the oldest annual Carnival celebration in the United States, having begun in 1703, 15 years before New Orleans was founded in 1718. The festival was a French Catholic tradition, reflecting the French colonial status of the first capital of La Louisiane. Settlers celebrated until midnight on Mardi Gras (French for “Fat Tuesday”), before the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday. Carnival and Mardi Gras in Mobile have evolved into a citywide multi-week celebration across the spectrum of cultures. The city has declared official school holidays for the final Monday and Tuesday (some include Wednesday), regardless of religious affiliation.
Although Mobile has traditions of secret mystic societies, who hold formal masked balls and create elegant costumes, the celebration has evolved over the past three centuries to showcase public parades where members of societies, often masked, go through the streets on floats or horseback. They toss gifts, called “throws”, to the general public. The masked balls or dances, where men wear white tie and tails (full dress or costume de rigueur) and the women wear full-length evening gowns, are oriented to adults. Folks who belong to the society wear masks. Some mystic societies treat the balls as an extension of the debutante season of their exclusive social circles. Various nightclubs and local bars offer their own particular events.
Beyond the public parades, Mardi Gras in Mobile involves many various mystic societies, some surviving since the 19th century, while new societies continue to be formed. Some mystic societies are not parading societies, but rather hold invitation-only events for their secret members, with private balls beginning in November.
The Monday before Ash Wednesday is known as “Lundi Gras” (“Fat Monday”), after the French tradition of eating good foods this day as well as Tuesday, in preparation for dietary restrictions during Lent. In Mobile, Lundi Gras is traditionally a family day. The Infant Mystics (1868), the second oldest society that continues to parade, introduced the first electric floats to Mobile in 1929 and parades today, on Lundi Gras. The OOM emblem float is probably the most famous of all in parades; Folly chasing Death around the broken pillar of life (see image) followed with the Knights of Revelry Emblem: Folly dancing in the goblet of life which parades on Fat Tuesday.
So, what’s a great way to end this day? A mouth-watering chicken dish comes to mind with a sweet, bourbon sauce. Served with a side vegetable and French bread ~ it is all we need to finish off a day of festive activities.
1 pound chicken leg or thigh meat, cut in bite size chunks
4 oz soy sauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. powdered ginger
2 tbs. dried minced onion
1/2 cup Jim Beam Bourbon Whiskey
2 tbs. white wine
Mix all the marinade ingredients and pour over chicken pieces in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate (stirring often) for several hours (best overnight). Bake chicken at 350 for one hour in a single layer, basting every 10 minutes. Remove chicken. Scrape pan juices with all the brown bits into a frying pan. Heat, and add 2 Tbs. white wine. Stir and add chicken. Cook for 1 minute and serve over white rice.