It happens every year, and last Tuesday was no exception. On the eve of Ash Wednesday, celebrants congregated in South Louisiana (among other places), and donned their purple, green, and gold. Weighed down by all the beads they could cajole, crowds raised tonics and hurricanes, shouted Laissez les bons temps rouler! They gorged themselves on king cake and beer, and danced to the jazz bands swinging “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
Ah, Fat Tuesday, that decadent day preceding the Lenten season. My family is originally from Louisiana, so as I grew up, the celebration of Mardi Gras was not lost on me. And every year, my father would wear a New Orleans tee-shirt, maybe break out the one with the purple, gold, and green fleur-de-lis. I always figured the colors must be symbolic. After all, who in their right mind would put those three shades together? But even though I assumed there was some symbolic meaning, I never asked why those hues were important to New Orleans culture.
Until this year, that is. This year I researched the color palette of Mardi Gras, hoping to determine what gave rise to its prevalence. What I found was quite surprising.
In 1872, Grand Duke Alexis Alexandrovitch of Russia visited the United States on a diplomatic mission. The stories of his travels are of epic proportions–the donation of gold to the homeless in Chicago, the great plains buffalo hunt, the affair with the burlesque dancer Lydia Thompson. Some say that his infatuation with Thompson led Alexandrovitch to New Orleans during the Mardi Gras season of 1872. Her dance company was performing, and Alexandrovich wanted to see the festivities first hand.
While in New Orleans, Alexandrovitch witnessed the city’s inaugural “Rex Parade,” a tradition that continues today. As the guest of honor, he was given the right to declare the colors for the party. He chose purple to signify justice, green to represent faith, and gold for kingly power.
The colors chosen by Alexandrovitch remain today, though I daresay many do not consider the nobility of their history. This is the way of the world, though, symbols of one generation lost on another, becoming mere tradition, less weighty. It’s the problem with symbolism, really. Detached from the context of the day, symbols lose meaning.
Poetry Prompt: Today, we’re hoping to create space for you to dabble in shade of purple, plum, and indigo. If you were to use any of those colors in your own symbolic reference, what would it be? What do the shades represent to you, or how can you use them to advance an ideal or a belief. What do you think? Are you ready to come up with a bit of symbolism?
Tweetspeak’s February Purple, Plum, and Indigo Poetry Prompt:
This month’s poetry theme at Tweetspeak is Purple, Plum, and Indigo, and we’re composing poems that play with the theme. Perhaps you can gain a bit of inspiration from this month’s playlist, from a particular piece of artwork, or from your local purveyor of plums, eggplant, or purple-hulled peas. How do you participate?
1. Think about the colors purple, plum, or indigo. Do the colors remind you of a particular place, a type of food, an experience, or a certain mood?
2. Compose a poem inspired by the theme.
3. Tweet your poems to us. Add a #PurplePoetry hashtag so we can find it and maybe share it with the world.
4. If you aren’t a twitter user, leave your poem here in the comment box.
5. At the end of the month, we’ll choose a winning poem and feature it in one of our upcoming Weekly Top 10 Poetic Picks.
Wouldn’t you know it? Our own Glynn Young offered his own Mardi Gras piece last week, “The Colors We Know.” In it, he wrote:
spectacle by kings and queens
there is no spectacle
like a Fat Tuesday spectacle
a spectacle in New Orleans
the colors we are raised with
the colors we absorb
our history, our science, our math
no purple without gold
no gold without green
three colors marking our path.
Good work, Glynn.
Now, let’s get to down to working out some purple symbolism. Who’s first?