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IU French Club educates community about Mardi Gras


Freshman roommates Lauren VanderReyden and Rylea James make masks as a Mardi Gras tradition. The French Club and classes celebrated Mardi Gras on Tuesday, Feb. 13, in Ballantine Hall. Ty Vinson Buy Photos

Surrounded by homemade beignets, colorful masks and traditional king cake, students, community members and faculty enjoyed their last day before the religious season of Lent together in an international fashion. 

On Feb. 13, the French Club’s Mardi Gras celebration took place in Ballantine Hall. The event was named “Laisser les bons temps rouler: Let’s Celebrate Mardi Gras!” "Laisser les bons temps rouler" is French for "let the good times roll."

"Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, traditionally takes place between Christmas and Ash Wednesday,” French Club faculty director Kathryn Bastin said in an email. “The name Fat Tuesday is drawn from the practice of eating richer or more decadent foods during the celebration which precedes the fasting of Lent.”

Other French-speaking and non-French-speaking cultures celebrate Mardi Gras as well. New Orleans is known to have its own parade, while Rio de Janeiro’s festival in Brazil has received international attention.

This event was free and open to anyone in the Bloomington community regardless of their French background. During the event, students and other attendees could be heard speaking in French and English.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to do something as a family,” Bloomington resident Alex Lamb said while her son, Étienne, tried on the Mardi Gras mask he made. 

She and her friend Anne-Karine Bley both brought their children to the event to experience the festivities.

The event started with a presentation by Laura Demsey, the French Club coordinator, about the history of Mardi Gras and some explanations of French words associated with the holiday. She also explained the various customs associated with Mardi Gras, such as the meaning behind the traditional colors. Purple represents justice and royalty, gold symbolizes power and green symbolizes faith.

Participants then crafted Mardi Gras masks while eating beignets and a traditional French king cake, a dessert with a hidden figurine of the infant Jesus, called la fève, inside. 

As per the custom, the individual who receives the piece of cake with the figurine is given a crown to be "king" for the day. This tradition is also common in Spanish-speaking countries. 

Bastin said in an email the Mardi Gras celebration is a traditional celebration for the French Club and that they aim to coordinate it every year. 

The Mardi Gras celebration is one of the French Club’s many events this semester. Besides cultural events, the club also organizes French movie showings with different themes and conversation tables for those wishing to improve their French speaking skills.

The next French Club event will be a conversation table regarding love and sexuality and will take place Feb. 22.

“It’s exciting to see how enthusiastic they are,”  Demsey said, referring to students who come to French Club events. 

She said the mission of the club is to facilitate experiential learning and to provide cultural background for those interested in Francophone regions. 

“This is a dose of culture that they wouldn’t get otherwise,”she said. “You’re not in Ballantine Hall, you’re in New Orleans, Breton, the south of France.”

Editor's note: The reporter for this story is a member of the French Club and attended some of their events last semester.

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