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Why Do People Wear A Mardi Gras Mask
Many expositions and many books have been devoted to teach us about the famous Mardi Gras Mask.
A mardi gras mask is the absolute essential item of the carnival. You really cannot take part fully in the carnival without one of these wonderful masks, to dress up your costume.
By hiding your face the mardi gras mask allows you to play a totally different role, it gives you the liberty to assume another personality. It is symbolic and magical, anonymous and mysterious. Who could be hiding behind this mardi gras mask that only allow the light of eyes to show? Now your eyes are no longer a window to your soul, the slits in the mask allow you to see but your own eyes reveal nothing anymore.
But according to Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant, in the Dictionnaire des Symboles, (Robert Laffont, coll. Bouquins, 1982, p. 615) masks do not hide the persona, but reveal in fact and liberate the lower tendencies of the true personality of the one who wears the mask.
There was an ancient belief, that the devil participated in all masquerades and wearing a mask was a way to protect oneself from the devil. This was even more important for women, whom the devil would seduce and impregnate. But since the mask is in itself the instrument of a devilish possession, to wear a mask could be dangerous. Many people had been thought to have disappeared without a trace from carnivals, Yet the attraction of the mask was so great that the superstitions surrounding the wearing of the mask remained without influence on people.
These superstitions and beliefs are far from the thoughts of people who dress up and wear a mask for mardi gras in today's society, but yet the tradition remains.
Just like little boys and little girls like to "dress up", and we all know that for them dressing up is more than just putting on clothes that they do not normally wear, (mom's dress and heels, a princess' dress or a cowboy's costume), when we play dress up for the carnival we do not really wear a disguise, we shed for a little time what we are. We can find ourselves again, behind the mask the myth of eternal youth is intact, behind a mask you can keep your mystery of age and sex. The costumed person is forbidden to talk to keep his/her secret.
The mask is there to restore dreams, only they eyes can express anything and a look can only be timeless.
Wearing a mask at the carnival is finding in oneself the child we may have lost, who in spite of life's struggles is still buried in us and only asks to reappear once in a while.
Did The African Masks Influenced Mardi Gras Masks
Generally speaking, Africans societies use a mask as an instrument. The person who wear a mask is not only representing a spiritual power, but during rituals he identifies with this power and lends his/her body to the divine, becoming only a tool by which the magic can be performed. Thus the mask was used to insure the health and protection of the community. It also contributed to the social status and often the lineage of the members in that society.
It was often forbidden, to even try to identify the wearer of a mask, this interdiction was punishable by death in some societies.
Some myths indicate that at some time this privilege belonged to women, until men took it away from them.
While we can find many African traditions in the costumes, and in the dancing at the various carnivals around the world, the African mask does not appear to be a great influence on mardi gras masks. Today they are mostly valued as collectibles and art objects, not as wearable objects.
Venetian Mardi Gras Masks
The most famous cities celebrating Mardi Gras with a carnival are Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Sydney, Australia and New Orleans, Louisiana. The Mardi Gras carnival is widely celebrated in many European cities. Among the most important carnivals of Europe we find Nice, France; Köln, Germany; and Venice, Italy which is home of the most famous carnival celebrations in the world. The masks associated with Venice are legendary and go back to the early middle ages. The tradition of wearing a mask had degenerated and people would wear a mask to conceal their bad behavior. This led the authorities to forbid the wearing of masks in Venetian society. This was a long period of interdiction but today the Venetian carnival has seen a renaissance.
Wearing of masks in Venice is now restricted to the period of carnival, but their production is alive and many beautiful mardi gras masks based on Venetian styles can be purchased everywhere.
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