Alvin Lee Johnson is better known to everyone in New Orleans as Al “Carnival Time” Johnson. His famous song, “Carnival Time,” dates back to February 1960. The original recording was done at the legendary Cosimo Matassa’s recording studio (which is now a residence owned by some Hollywood celebrities whose name escapes me at the moment but if you stop by Matassas Grocery at the corner of St . Philip and Dauphine in the French Quarter and buy a Hubig Pie you can ask Cosimo if he knows) and was inspired by songs such as “Go To The Mardi Gras,” by Professor Longhair and “Mardi Gras Mambo” by the Hawkettes (recorded in 1951 and led by then 17 year Art Neville). All of these are now staples of Mardi Gras and can be heard continuosly during carnival season.
Now for all you folks who have the misfortune to live somewhere other than New Orleans, a little explanation is in order. Mardi Gras is a day not a season …. it’s Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, which as all good nawlins catolics know is is the first day of Lent and occurs forty days before Easter (excluding Sundays). It falls on a different date each year, because it is dependent on the date of Easter.
The canonical rule is that Easter day is the first Sunday after the 14th day of the lunar month (the nominal full moon) that falls on or after 21 March (nominally the day of the vernal equinox). Equinoxes , of course, occur twice a year, when the tilt of the Earth’s axis is oriented neither from nor to the Sun, causing the Sun to be located vertically above a point on the equator. The name is derived from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night), because at the equinox the night and day are equally long. At an equinox, the Sun is at one of two opposite points on the celestial sphere where the celestial equator (i.e., declination 0) and ecliptic intersect. These points of intersection are called equinoctial points and happen each year at two specific moments in time (not a whole day) when the centre of the Sun can be observed to be vertically above the Earth‘s equator and are called the vernal point and the autumnal point. By extension, the term equinox may be used to denote an equinoctial point.
I mean really …. who doesn’t know that
Carnival season on the other hand begins on the 12th night after Christmas. Again all good catolics know that the celebration of Epiphany, or the adoration of the Magi, concludes the Twelve Days of Christmas. It is defined by the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary as “the evening of the fifth of January, preceding Twelfth Day, the eve of the Epiphany, formerly the last day of the Christmas festivities and observed as a time of merrymaking.” Here in New Orleans, 12th Night is the official first day of carnival season and is celebrated by the Phunny Phorty Fellows riding street cars in the first parade of the season.