Joy of Mardi Gras marks the path to the solemn Lenten season

By David Broyles

March 2, 2014

A bit of New Orleans came to Mount Airy Friday night as Holy Angels Catholic Church held its annual Mardi Gras party. According to party organizer and New Orleans native Adreann Belle, the event has become a major fundraiser for the church’s Columbiettes which are the auxiliary for the Knights of Columbus.

Father Larry Heiney set the tone for the evening in his opening blessing by reminding those present “as hearty as you party tonight you must also fast in Lent.”

Just moments before, former members of the church, Paul Liotard, dressed as Uncle Sam, and his wife, Rosemary, in full Gypsy garb, entered the fellowship hall to greet old friends.

“I was running out of costumes,” said Paul Liotard as he explained his choice of character. “One year I was a pirate then the next a clown and the next a vampire. The point is to have a little fun. This is the big celebration before the fasting.”

Belle agreed, often mention of Mardi Gras in popular media stresses only one side of Christian tradition. The joy, the richness for life expressed in the holiday’s fare, is bound to the austere, solemn traditions of Lent. The very recipes featured at the party are carried on from family traditions of Belle and the other cooks in the church and haven’t changed much.

That is until this year. Belle said she was excited to debut a new pasta jambalaya which appeared to be well received by diners. Vocalist Melva Houston and musician Henry Ford Carter also performed at the dinner.

“We actually had this at a restaurant in Durham,” said Belle. “It was so good we had to duplicate it. We added our own touches and here it is tonight.” Belle explained the proceeds from the party go to the Columbiettes for charitable contributions and projects.

Belle said the party has gradually taken the place of the group’s original main fundraiser, which was a bazaar. She said it marked its 15th year this year at Holy Angels. She said the congregation there still very strongly holds on to the traditions of Mardi Gras, traditionally used to get rid of “rich” foods in pantries to prepare for Lent which is marked by Ash Wednesday and both are linked to Epiphany, which is traditionally celebrated 12 nights after Christmas.

The menu for the dinner consisted of file (regular) gumbo and seafood gumbo, red beans and rice, jambalaya and featured the traditional dessert, New Orleans King Cake. Belle explained the tradition where “King’s Cake” represented the three kings who brought gifts to Jesus. A bean (later a plastic baby figure) is placed in one slice of the cake and whoever gets the bean must buy the next King Cake or throw the next party.

Belle came to the area with her husband, Don, a Mount Airy native. She said she had to engage in a little education about New Orleans Mardi Gras traditions at first.

“There are a lot more people here than just those from the Catholic church,” Belle said. “It’s for everybody. We’ll have good food until the end of Fat Tuesday. This is community based and we have a lot of fun. We want to be joyous going into the Lenten season.”

The Columbiettes also support the Knights of Columbus which is a fraternal benefit society. According to information on the group’s website, the Order’s founding principles are charity, unity and fraternity. The Knights offer financial aid to members and their families and mutual aid and assistance are offered to sick, disabled and needy members and their families. Social and intellectual fellowship is promoted among members and their families through educational, charitable, religious, social welfare, war relief and public relief works.

David Broyles may be reached at 336-719-1952 or on Twitter @MtAiryNewsDave.