Mardi Gras is upon us and it abounds in tradition. Most people associate Mardi Gras with New Orleans, but in fact it is a true “feast” day celebrated in many ways, in many places. Mardi Gras celebrations can be found throughout the historical French settlement areas of North America, with traditions stretching back centuries. Mardi Gras celebrations are found all along the Gulf Coast, up the Mississippi to St. Louis, and into Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan.
Think these northern events are just modern adaptations of French life in the South? Think again! The roots of Mardi Gras are deep in the North as well, where French culture defined the first century of European settlement. One custom passed down through Detroit’s French founding families was the home celebration of “virez les crepes” – a pancake toss! The idea is to flip a crepe as it is being cooked so that it lands in perfect shape on its other side…not so easy!
According to Marie Hamlin, the crepes should then be stacked high, with butter and maple syrup slathered between each layer, until a gateau aux crepes is built. After dinner: dancing and revelry! Rooted in French and Catholic traditions, Mardi Gras has rightly become the day when everyone can find their inner French, Creole and/or Cajun joie de vivre! This year and in recent years, homegrown Mardi Gras events have been held in Vincennes and Evansville, Indiana, Galena and Rock Island, Illinois, Grand Rapids and Monroe, Michigan and many other locations. What Mardi Gras traditions are known in your home and hometown?