Everything You Need to Know About Mardi Gras, A-Z

  • February 23, 2017
  • Jenna Maxwell

Ash Wednesday - This coming Wednesday March 1st is Ash Wednesday. It marks the first day of Lent, the six-week period of prayer and fasting that immediately follows the feasting and celebrating of Mardi Gras.

Beads-Beads are one of the most coveted "throws" that float riders toss to spectators during Mardi Gras parades. These inexpensive plastic strings of beads have been a favorite souvenir of Mardi Gras since the late nineteenth century when Krewe members first tossed them to very enthusiastic spectators.

Costumes-Just like Halloween, Mardi Gras celebrations often focus on dressing up in elaborate or even crazy costumes. Anything goes for Mardi Gras, but traditionally costumes are comprised of the designated Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold. A broad range of accessories will enhance Mardi Gras costumes including wigs, gloves, and hats. The most well known Mardi Gras accessory to wear, is, of course, a mask.

Doubloons-Another favorite Mardi Gras souvenir or "throw" is a commemorative doubloon. Mardi Gras souvenir doubloons look like coins but are crafted from colored aluminum, and then stamped with various Krewe's insignia and the year of the celebration. Seasoned Mardi Gras revelers will bring a bag to collect and carry their doubloons along with other Mardi Gras souvenirs.

Extravaganza-Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday truly is nothing short of a full-blown extravaganza. With a steady stream of food, drink, costume parties, parades and masquerade balls, this grand celebration is an event for the ages.

Fat Tuesday-Fat Tuesday gets its name from being a day of extreme eating, drinking and partying that happens just before Lent. Ash Wednesday begins this six-week period of fasting and self-denial.

Glitz-Nothing about Mardi Gras is dull or blasé--in fact, if ever there were a time to put on the glitz, this would be the day!

Hangover-Mardi Gras is well known to be a time for eating and drinking, often in excess. For some, this may mean an inevitable hangover.

Imaginative-Mardi Gras and imagination go hand in hand. There are many opportunities to use your creativity while celebrating this exciting event. Now is the time to put together an exciting Mardi Gras costume look that expresses your unique personality.

Jazz-The celebrations of Mardi Gras have adopted much of the finer parts of New Orleans culture which naturally includes The Big Easy's best jazz music.

King Cake-The King Cake is one of the most traditional party foods served during Mardi Gras celebrations. The King Cake gets its name from the three kings or wise men that visited the baby Jesus after his birth. Made of pastry, the King Cake is baked into a circular shape and is then decorated with sprinkles of green, purple and gold sugar. Baked inside the King Cake is a small plastic baby. Tradition states that whoever gets the piece of cake that holds the baby must hold the following year's party.

Lent-Lent is the six-week period of prayer and fasting that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday.

Masks-The wearing of masks is a longstanding tradition of Mardi Gras. The masking tradition started many years ago as a way to conceal one's true identity during the extreme feasting, revelry and sometimes, debauchery that occurred during the celebration of Mardi Gras. Wearing a mask allowed for an easier abandonment of societal restrictions as well as the mixing of social classes without any repercussions.

New Orleans-New Orleans is the home of the largest Mardi Gras celebration in the United States.

Outrageous-When it comes to Mardi Gras festivities, one word comes to mind. Outrageous! From costumes and favors to food and parties, Mardi Gras is well known for being the time to eat, drink and be merry.

Parades-During the period leading up to Mardi Gras you can expect to see many fabulous parades. The amazing spectacles begin in the month of January and continue all the way through Fat Tuesday. All float riders are masked, and most will be tossing throws and trinkets to parade onlookers.

Queen-At each year's Mardi Gras celebration a King and Queen are named to rule over all of the carnival festivities.

Rex-Rex is the legendary King of Carnival or Mardi Gras. The Rex Organization is one of the longest functioning Krewe's of Mardi Gras and has been hosting the celebration since 1872. Shrove Tuesday-Shrove Tuesday is another name for Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday and has long been a traditional day for feasting and celebrating.

Trinkets-What would Mardi Gras be without a full assortment of trinkets and souvenirs? Popular Mardi Gras trinkets include plastic beads, doubloons, cups and stuffed animals.

Ultimate Party-What more do we need to say about Mardi Gras? The term "ultimate party" pretty much sums up the experience to a tee.

Voodoo-A longstanding part of New Orleans history, the Voodoo religion came to New Orleans with slaves who had practiced the religion in their homeland of Africa. Some areas of the Voodoo religion have been passed on for generations in this southern region of the country, including various religious ceremonies and of course, Voodoo themed costumes.

Waving-If you are going to watch a Mardi Gras parade, get ready to do a lot of waving. Waving to the float riders to capture their attention will likely get more parade throws tossed in your direction!

Xylophone-The unique xylophone is just one of many great instruments used to play the festive and sometimes raucous music that made Mardi Gras famous.

Zest-If you have a zest for adventure. Mardi Gras celebrating is the holiday for you! Even if you can't make the trip to New Orleans, consider holding a Mardi Gras party in your own neck of the woods!

Happy Mardi Gras from your friends at Halloween Express!


The Surprising Truth About Presidents' Day

  • February 16, 2017
  • Jenna Maxwell

This coming Monday, February 20th is Presidents' Day . . . or is it? One look at your calendar and it's very easy to verify the existence of the upcoming holiday that gives many of us a wonderful winter three-day weekend. What you may not realize, however, is that there is a bit of confusion about the specifics of Presidents' Day. The truth is, Presidents' Day may not be the holiday you think it is at all. To get to the bottom of all the confusion, we must first go back into history.

Celebrating George Washington's birthday is a great American tradition that is as old as America. In fact, the first birthday festivities held for George Washington happened during the late 18th century while he was still acting as President of the United States. There is little doubt why folks would want to honor the first President and his incredible legacy, which is why this great tradition continues into our modern day. Thus, it makes sense that in 1885, President Chester Arthur signed a bill that made celebrating February 22, Washington's Birthday, a federal holiday.

Meanwhile, many folks felt that Abraham Lincoln's birthday (February 12) also should be recognized and deserved some attention. Although Lincoln's birthday never became a federal holiday, many states went ahead and celebrated it on their own. So what caused the Presidents' holiday confusion? It all seems to have started with Congress and something called the Uniform Monday Holiday Act.

In 1968, Congress signed into law an act that would change the official dates of certain federal holidays. The purpose of the revised federal code was to ensure that certain holidays would always occur on a Monday, which tacked the holidays onto a weekend, creating three-day long weekends for each of these celebrations. Beginning in 1971, the Uniform Monday Holiday Act changed Washington's Birthday, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day and Columbus Day holidays all to an expressly indicated Monday.

At the time of the implementation of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, there was also a movement to change the name of the George Washington's birthday holiday to "Presidents' Day" to simultaneously honor both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Congress rejected the change, but interestingly enough, the movement to cause the name change received so much publicity that even though it never became legal or an official change, the name "Presidents' Day" stuck. Additionally, because the new official Monday given to mark Washington's Birthday holiday is the third Monday in February, it will always fall in between Lincoln's and Washington's Birthday. This timing only reinforced the false notion that the holiday should honor both former presidents, Washington and Lincoln. The strange truth about Presidents' Day is that technically, there is no Presidents' Day. The Federal holiday that is celebrated on the third Monday in February is George Washington's Birthday, and sadly, there is no national holiday set aside to recognize the birthday of Abraham Lincoln.

So, it seems that depending on how you look at it, either the Father of Our Country or Honest Abe may be getting a little short changed. There are plenty of folks that firmly believe that Lincoln truly deserves his holiday and others feel that using the term, "Presidents' Day" takes something away from the great legacy of George Washington. The reality is, however, that even though this important holiday may technically be "George Washington's Birthday," most workplaces, schools, calendars, advertisers, and even many government agencies still use the term, "Presidents' Day."

No matter how you celebrate your upcoming three-day weekend or what you choose to call it, Presidents' Day is a spectacular time to reflect on some of the many accomplishments of these two very influential past Presidents and how these great men impacted the many freedoms we enjoy in our country today.


Get Ready for The LEGO Batman Movie

  • February 10, 2017
  • Jenna Maxwell

Back in early 2014, "The Lego Movie" took movie theaters by storm. The surprise Lego-inspired theatrical hit not only blew audiences away, but it also left its fans hungry for more! Lucky for you, the wait is finally over. Hoping to recapture the essence and irreverent humor of the original Lego-inspired adventure, Today, February the 10th, "The Lego Batman Movie" will be released to very anxious audiences. It's been a long three-year wait, but "The Lego Batman Movie" surely will not disappoint.

"The Lego Batman Movie" is a computer animated, comedy-action movie created by Warner Animation Group and DC Entertainment. Well suited for families, both kids and grown-ups will love the sophomoric and mildly brash humor found in this tale. You are sure to giggle as rather sassy Lego-Batman deals with his usual foes-- criminals, super-villains, and bad guys, in addition to having a few problems that are definitely of his own making.

Batman (aka Bruce Wayne) is the star of this lively spin-off of the original Lego Movie. In "The Lego Batman Movie," Gotham City has become a rather tumultuous place, requiring Batman's unique skills to be once again called into action. Batman does what he always does and defends Gotham City against all manner of nasty villains, menaces, and criminals--particularly the Joker who as usual, is causing all sorts of problems. In this film, Batman comes to grips with the fact that he can't tackle all his problems on his own. After some serious soul-searching, the Dark Knight concludes that he can't always work as a single, lone caped crusader and that more can be accomplished with a little help from his ever-ready posse of friends. Learning to work with others and accept their help is just one more of Batman's serious challenges.

As part of another interesting plot twist, Batman also has somehow found himself as the parent to an accidentally adopted son, Dick Grayson. Dick is way too anxious to help out with any and all of Batman's tasks and for that matter, any superhero stuff that needs doing. Batman's new relationship with Grayson morphs into the creation of Batman's most legendary sidekick--Robin, of course, and the newly appointed Robin's enthusiasm for his job is hilarious, in spite of Batman's initial misgivings and grumblings.

In addition to fresh new takes on the characters of Batman, Robin and The Joker, The Lego Batman Movie is filled with a vast assortment of exciting cameo appearances by many long-time favorite villains and superheroes, including Batgirl, Catwoman, Superman, Clay Face, The Green Lantern, Harley Quinn, Two-Face, Poison Ivy and The Flash. (Just to name a few!)

The Lego Batman Movie will be in theaters on Friday, February 10th. Don't miss it!

"Always be yourself, unless you can be Batman."


Valentine's Day: Fun Facts and History About the Legendary Day of Love

  • February 09, 2017
  • Jenna Maxwell

Valentine's Day is one of the most popular winter holidays. In our modern day, Valentine's Day is a special day set aside to celebrate love and affection. It's also fun to note that additionally, Valentine's Day has some pretty cool historical roots. Here we've gathered together some of the more interesting Valentine's Day historical facts and trivia tidbits to get you ready for this upcoming day of amour!

In the Beginning. Valentine's Day likely stems from an ancient fertility festival called Lupercalia. This ritualistic festival was held in mid-February and included some pretty wild behavior including animal sacrifices and raucous feasting. During the 5th Century, Pope Gelasius tried to adapt the pagan festival into a holiday that would be more consistent with the rapidly spreading Christian faith. The Pope called his new holiday Saint Valentine's Day, the celebration to be held on February the 14th.

The Legend of Saint Valentine. Father Valentine lived during the 3rd Century in Ancient Rome. During this time there was a power hungry Emperor named Claudius that ruled the empire. Claudius became very frustrated with his armies who were largely family men who became extremely homesick while away from their loved ones. Claudius felt that his soldiers were so busy longing for their families that they weren't focusing on their duties. Feeling that unmarried men would make better soldiers, Claudius issued a harsh edict that outlawed marriage amongst those in his regiment. Father Valentine did not agree with the harsh ruling of Emperor Claudius, and at his own peril, he continued to perform marriage ceremonies in secret. Eventually, the covert wedding ceremonies of Father Valentine were discovered, and a furious Emperor Claudius had the romance-loving priest put in prison where he was subsequently sentenced to death. During Father Valentine's miserable stay in jail, legends tell of what may have happened during his confinement. There are tales of young couples married by the Father who came to visit him while he was in prison, bringing him gifts, flowers, and sometimes notes expressing their gratitude. Other stories tell of the friendship that Valentine formed with the jailer's daughter, Julia during the time of his imprisonment. In the final moments before his beheading in the year 278 AD, Julia received a handwritten note of friendship from the Father that was signed, "From Your Valentine." At this moment in history, perhaps the longstanding tradition of Valentine cards was born.

Cupid is as Cupid Does. Cupid, the bow and arrow-wielding Roman God of Love, is one of the most iconic and popular symbols used to celebrate Valentine's Day. Cupid's roots go back to the days of Ancient Greece and Rome, but it wasn't until the 1700's that Cupid's chubby and diapered visage started to make its way onto Valentine cards. Cupid's legend may be over 3000 years old, but even today he is still notorious for mischievously using his bow and arrow to shoot victims in the heart, which of course causes them to fall in love immediately.

Keep Calm and Love On. Valentine's Day is big business. American's will spend close to 20 billion dollars on the day of love, mostly on candy, flowers, and gifts. More greeting cards will be purchased for Valentine's Day than any other holiday aside from Christmas. Over 35 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolates will be bought in the United States for Valentine's Day along with over 220 million roses!

Do you have a date for Valentine's Day? We do. It's next Tuesday - February the 14th.

Happy Valentine's Day from your friends at Halloween Express!


The Legend and Lore Behind Groundhog Day

  • January 31, 2017
  • Jenna Maxwell

When it comes to weather, there is winter, and then there is WINTER. This year, across the nation, we have seen a wide variety of unusually harsh and rather extreme winter weather. Winter has been fraught with all manner of snow, sleet, rain, wind and everything in between. Many of you may already be pining for spring, and who can blame you? When, oh when will spring arrive? At times like this, it's more important than ever to have a weather forecasting resource that you can trust. Whether you choose to check a weather app on your phone or take a simpler approach and just stick your head outside to see what's going on --knowing what's happening with your local weather is important. The whole idea of weather forecasting is hardly anything new--in fact, as far back as the earliest civilizations, predicting the weather has been an important part of all cultures.

One of the most legendary predictors of weather has centered on of all things, a groundhog. The methodology used with this fat marmot is rather simple and certainly doesn't require thermometers, barometers, weather maps or even satellites. Here is everything you've been dying to know about one of the most bizarre weather forecasting techniques of all time, all featured in an upcoming holiday known as Groundhog Day.

Groundhog Day is celebrated this Thursday, February 2nd. Although the first official Groundhog Day was marked in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania in 1887, the core premise of the celebration has roots that go deep into history. Thousands of years ago, ancient Europeans had some rather quirky methods of predicting the weather. It was important to try at least to make an educated guess about the length of winter back in those days. Local folks in the villages were anxious to figure out when the best time was to plant their crops. Mid-winter was estimated to occur on February 2, and this seemed like an excellent opportunity to begin assessing how much longer winter would last. As was common back in those days, the locals were fairly superstitious about a lot of things. At that time long ago, midwinter also coincided with a celebration known as Candlemas. The ancients viewed Candlemas as a religious holiday, but according to ancient lore, it was also a time that the future of winter could be predicted.

"If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter will have another flight.
If Candlemas be cloud and rain,
Winter will be gone and not come again."

During the celebration of Candlemas, a couple of animals were thought to have mystical powers when it came to weather prediction. These animals (primarily badgers and sometimes bears) were used and observed. The thinking was if one could see the badger's shadow on this mid-winter day, winter was going to continue for several weeks. If the shadow was absent, spring was thought to be imminent.

When German immigrants eventually migrated to the United States and settled in Pennsylvania, they brought with them many of their customs from the old country. One of these old traditions was, of course, the practice of looking for badger shadows as a method of predicting the weather. Once in Pennsylvania, however, badgers were pretty hard to find. One animal that seemed to be roaming around in abundant numbers was the Groundhog or as it sometimes otherwise known, the Woodchuck.

Not only was the groundhog waddling around all over the place in Pennsylvania in those days, but this close relative of the ground squirrel was also considered to be a culinary delicacy in those parts. During the late 1800's, particularly at the Punxsutawney Elks Lodge, groundhogs were a menu favorite. Aficionados of the groundhog were passionate enough about this portly critter to form a club in honor of their beloved rodent. The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club was born. In 1887, the Groundhog Club held their first official ceremony putting their beloved mascot, "Punxsutawney Phil" to use as a weather forecaster. Filling in for the badgers and bears used in olden days, on this particular February the 2nd, Punxsutawney Phil climbed out of his cozy burrow just long enough to show himself while onlookers watched anxiously for his shadow.

Here were are, 130 years later, and Groundhog day in Punxsutawney Pennsylvania is still holding its own as a long-standing tradition. Classic formal garb, including top hats and tails, are all part of the pomp and circumstance that goes along with Punxsutawney Phil's distinguished appearance. Other chubby imposter groundhogs such as Buckeye Chuck, South Lake Jake and Jimmy the Groundhog, have popped up in various places around the country. Groundhog Day is now a celebration happening in many locations outside of Gobbler's Knob, Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Perhaps a Groundhog Day event may even be happening near you.

So, if you're wondering what's left of winter--look no further. On Thursday, February the 2nd, the nation's attention will turn to a groundhog known as Punxsutawney Phil as his shadow does or doesn't show up along with him. If Phil sees his shadow, tradition states we're in for six more weeks of winter. If Phil's shadow is gloriously absent, spring is just around the corner. Devotees of Phil and members of the Groundhog Club claim that Phil's weather predictions are 100% accurate. StormFax, however, puts Phil's accuracy rate at a rather abysmal 39%. Whether you believe in the weather wizardry of an old groundhog or not, there's something completely awesome about the idea of a weather-predicting animal named Phil. Groundhog Day is celebrated this Thursday, February 2nd.