There are many similarities between Mardi Gras and Purim, and nowhere are they clearer--or more fun--than here in New Orleans.
Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, was February 27 this year, putting it just about 10 days before the Jewish festival of Purim. Though Mardi Gras, like Halloween, has become a thoroughly American holiday, I like to think of it as Catholic Purim, especially this year, when the holiday falls between the full moon of Tu B'shevat--the Jewish New Year for Trees--and the full moon of Purim. Both Purim and Mardi Gras involve masking, both celebrate turning the world upside down, both encourage inebriation: The two holidays are in many ways soulmates.
Purim falls in the middle of the Jewish month of Adar, and the rabbis teach that at the beginning of that month we already start to "increase our joy" in anticipation of the festival to come. So, too, with the Mardi Gras parade season, which really starts long before Fat Tuesday itself, in the great laboratory of American culture known as New Orleans.
Jazz was cooked up here--out of American marching band music and the drumming on Congo Square and the genius of New Orleans' native sons and daughters. As Ken Burns' documentary series recently revealed, a Jewish family helped Louis Armstrong make it out of the difficult poverty of his youth, and in gratitude the jazz giant always wore a Jewish star around his neck.