Mardi Gras (French for "Fat Tuesday") is the day before Ash Wednesday, and is also called "Shrove Tuesday" or "Pancake Day". Mardi Gras is the final day of Carnival, though the term is often used incorrectly to describe the days and weeks preceding Fat Tuesday. Carnival begins 12 days after Christmas, or Twelfth Night, on January 6 and ends on Mardi Gras, which always falls exactly 47 days before Easter. Perhaps the cities most famous for their Mardi Gras celebrations include New Orleans, Louisiana; Venice, Italy; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Many other places have important Mardi Gras celebrations as well. Carnival is an important celebration in most of Europe, except in the United Kingdom where pancakes are the tradition, and also in many parts of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Carnival is celebrated in several Argentine cities in the subtropical northeast. Carnival in Buenos Aires is notable for the dancing murga troupes.
In the Belgian city of Binche the "Mardi Gras" is the most important day of the year and the summit of the Carnival of Binche. Around 1000 Gilles are dancing through the city from 4.00 AM to late hours on traditional carnival songs. In 2003, the Carnival of Binche was proclaimed one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
In Brazil, the Carnaval celebrations in Recife, Salvador are well-known with the most notable being that one held in Rio de Janeiro. The celebrations of Carnaval end on Mardi Gras. Thousands of people from across Brazil and also from other parts of the world come to attend the festivities.
Recife is home to several noted Carnaval celebrations. One famous event is the "Noite dos Tambores Silenciosos". Recife’s Carnaval is nationally known and attracts thousands of people every year. The party starts a week before the official date, with electric trios “shaking” the Boa Viagem district. On Fiday, people take to the streets to enjoy themselves to the sound of frevo and to dance with maracatu, ciranda, caboclinhos, afoxé, reggae and manguebeat (cultural movement created in Recife during the 90s) groups. There are still many other entertainment poles spread out around the city, featuring local and national artists. One of the highlights is Saturday when more than one million people follow the Galo da Madrugada group. From Sunday to Monday, there is the Night of the Silent Drums, on the Pátio do Terço, where Maracatus honor slaves that died in prisons.
Rio de Janeiro
The Carnaval is an annual celebration in Brazil held 40 days before Easter and marks the beginning of Lent. Rio de Janeiro has many Carnaval choices, including the famous Escolas de Samba (Samba schools) parades in the sambódromo exhibition centre and the popular 'blocos de carnaval', which parade in almost every corner of the city. The most famous parades are the Cordão do Bola Preta with traditional carnaval parades in the centre of the city, the Suvaco do Cristo parades in the Botanic Garden, Carmelitas parades in the hills of Santa Teresa, the Simpatia é Quase Amor is one of the most popular parades in Ipanema, and the Banda de Ipanema which attracts a wide range of revelers, including families and a wide spectrum of the gay population (notably spectacular drag queens).
According to the Guinness Book, the carnival or Carnaval of Salvador de Bahia is the biggest street party on the planet. For an entire week, almost two million people join the city's street celebrations, which are divided into circuits: Barra/Ondina, Campo Grande and Pelourinho. The music played during Carnaval includes Axé and Samba-reggae. Many "blocos" participate in Carnaval, the "blocos afros" like Malé Debalé, Olodum and Filhos de Gandhi being the most famous of them.
In the Caribbean, Carnival is celebrated on a number of islands:Aruba, Barbados, Dominica,Dominican Republic, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Trinidad and Tobago are some of the celebrants.
The celebration of Mardi Gras in Germany is called Karneval, Fastnacht, or Fasching. Fastnacht means "Eve of the Beginning of the Fast", and thus it is celebrated until the day before Ash Wednesday.
The main celebration of Mardi Gras in Guatemala is in Mazatenango.
In Goa, India, the Carnival is celebrated for three days culminating on Fat Tuesday. Goa was a Portuguese colony until 1961.
Venice is home to one of the most famous Carnival celebrations in the world, in addition to one of the oldest. The Carnival of Venice (or Carnevale di Venezia in Italian) was first recorded in 1268. The subversive nature of the festival is reflected in the many laws created over the centuries in Italy attempting to restrict celebrations and often banning the wearing of masks. Masks have always been a central feature of the Venetian carnival, traditionally people were allowed to wear them between the festival of Santo Stefano (St. Stephen's Day, at the start of the Carnival season and midnight of Shrove Tuesday. As masks were also allowed during Ascension and from October 5 to Christmas, people could spend a large proportion of the year in disguise. Maskmakers (mascherari) enjoyed a special position in society, with their own laws and their own guild. In 1797 Venice became part of the Austrian-held Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia when Napoleon signed the Treaty of Campo Formio. The Austrians took control of the city on January 18, 1798 and it fell into a decline which also effectively brought Carnival celebrations to a halt for almost two centuries. Carnival was outlawed by the fascist government in the 1930s. It was not until a modern mask shop was founded in the 1980s that Carnival enjoyed a revival.
In Mexico, there are big Carnival celebrations every year in Mazatlán, which has "The third largest Mardi Gras in the world", and Veracruz, which that include the election of a queen and street parades. There is also a week-long Carnival or Mardi Gras celebration in Mérida, Yucatán.
Carnival is celebrated in several Panamanian cities such as Las Tablas, Ocu, Chitre, Penonomé and Panama City. Carnival in this country is characterized by the soaking of people mainly via the use of water trucks and hoses. The celebrations tend to last through a four day holiday weekend. In Uruguay, the city of Montevideo hosts a large and lively Carnival, especially in its southern barrios.
In Slovenia it is called Kurentovanje. It's from the word Kurent which is the name of a mask, made of sheep skin and richly decorated. People make noise with bells attached on their hips. It's also one of the traditions to eat doughnuts.
In Spain it's called Carnaval. The Carnival in Chipiona Carnaval in Chipiona is without doubt the festival that represents our town the most. It's celebrated in the month of February and coincides with the date of the festival held in the capital of the province, Cádiz. Even though it's official duration is just 10 days, for at least a month before there are activities being held in the peñas and by various organizations.
In Sweden the celebration is called Fettisdagen. It comes from the word "fett" (fat) and "tisdag" (Tuesday). Originally, this was the only day one should eat "Semlor" (Semla) (fat Tuesday buns), but these are now found in most grocery stores and bakeries preceding the holiday, and up until Easter.
While not observed nationally throughout the United States, a number of cities and regions in the country have notable celebrations. Mardi Gras arrived in North America as a sedate French Catholic tradition with the Le Moyne brothers, Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville and Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, in the late 17th century, when King Louis XIV sent the pair to defend France's claim on the territory of Louisianne, which included what are now the U.S. states of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
The expedition, led by Iberville, entered the mouth of the Mississippi River on the evening of March 2, 1699, Lundi Gras, not yet knowing it was the river explored and claimed for France by René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle in 1683. The party proceeded upstream to a place on the west bank about 60 miles downriver from where New Orleans is today, where a small tributary emptied into the great river, and made camp. This was on March 3, 1699, Mardi Gras day, so in honor of this holiday, Iberville named the spot Point du Mardi Gras (French: "Mardi Gras Point") and called the small tributary Bayou Mardi Gras.enlou. Bienville went on to found the settlement of Mobile, Alabama in 1702 as the first capital of French Louisiana, and in 1703 the Mardi Gras tradition began with celebrations by the French settlers in that city. By 1720, Biloxi been made capital of Louisiana. The French customs were introduced there at that time. In 1723, the capital of Louisiana was moved to a new town, founded in 1718, called Nouvelle-Orléans (New Orleans), and the tradition would take root there also. In more recent times several other U.S. cities without a French Catholic heritage have instituted the celebration of Mardi Gras.
New Orleans Mardi Gras celebrations draw hundreds of thousands of tourists to the city in addition to the celebrating locals for the parties and parades. Most tourists can be found within the French Quarter, especially Bourbon Street. The starting date of festivities in New Orleans is unknown (or perhaps records burned in 1788 or the Civil War), but considering Mobile celebrated in the French manner from 1703, and the capital of French Louisiana was moved to New Orleans in 1723, the Mardi Gras tradition probably moved also: an account from 1743 notes that the custom of Carnival balls was already established by that date (during the time Bienville was still governor coming from Mobile). Processions and masking in the streets on Mardi Gras Day took place, and were sometimes prohibited by law, but were quickly renewed whenever such restrictions were lifted or enforcement waned. In 1833, Bernard Xavier de Marigny de Mandeville, a rich plantation owner, raised the money to fund an official Mardi Gras celebration. On Mardi Gras of 1857 the Mistick Krewe of Comus held its first parade. Comus is the oldest continuously active Mardi Gras organization and started a number of continuing traditions (for example, the use of floats in parades) and is considered the first Carnival krewe in the modern sense. In 1875 Mardi Gras was declared a legal holiday by the state of Louisiana. War, economic, political, and weather conditions sometimes led to cancellation of some or all major parades, especially during the American Civil War, World War I and World War II, but celebration of Carnival has always been observed in the city.
1972 was the last year in which large parades went though the narrow streets of the city's old French Quarter neighborhood; larger floats and crowds and safety concerns led the city government to prohibit big parades in the Quarter. In 1991 the New Orleans city council passed an ordinance that required social organizations, including Mardi Gras Krewes, to certify publicly that they did not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, in order to obtain parade permits and other public licenses. In effect, the ordinance required these, and other, private social groups to abandon their traditional code of secrecy and identify their members for the city's Human Relations Commission. In protest, the 19th century krewes Comus and Momus stopped parading. Proteus did parade in the 1992 Carnival season but subsequently also suspended its parade for a time. In 2000, Proteus returned to the parade schedule. Two federal courts later declared that the ordinance was an unconstitutional infringement on First Amendment rights of free association, and an unwarranted intrusion on the privacy of the groups subject to the ordinance. The Supreme Court refused to hear the city's appeal from this decision. Today, many krewes operate under a business structure; membership is basically open to anyone who pays dues to have a place on a parade float.
The effect of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans in late 2005 caused many to question the future of the city's Mardi Gras celebrations. The city government, essentially bankrupt after the storm, pushed for a massively scaled back celebration to limit strains on city services. However, many krewes insisted that they wanted to and would be ready to parade, so negotiations between krewe leaders and city officials resulted in a compromise schedule scaled back but less severely than originally suggested. The 2006 New Orleans Carnival schedule included the Krewe du Vieux on its traditional route through Marigny and the French Quarter on February 11th, the Saturday 2 weekends before Mardi Gras, then several parades the Saturday the 18th and Sunday the 19th a week before Mardi Gras, followed by 6 days of parades Thursday night through Mardi Gras Day. Other than Krewe du Vieux and two Westbank parades going through Algiers, all New Orleans parades were restricted to the Saint Charles Avenue Uptown to Canal Street route, a section of the city which escaped significant flooding (some krewes unsuccessfully pushed to parade on their traditional Mid City route, despite the severe flood damage suffered by that neighborhood). Restrictions were placed on time parades can be on the street and how late at night they can end. Louisiana State troopers and National Guards assisted with crowd control for the first time since 1979. Many floats had been partially submerged in the floodwaters for weeks; while some krewes repaired and removed all traces of these effects, others incorporated flood lines and other damage into the designs of the floats. Most of the locals who worked on the floats and rode on them were significantly impacted by the storm's aftermath, and many had lost most or all of the possessions in their homes, but enthusiasm for Carnival was even more intense than usual as an affirmation of life. The themes of many costumes and floats had more barbed satire than usual, with commentary on the trials and tribulations of living in the devastated city, with references to MREs, Katrina refrigerators and FEMA trailers, along with much mocking of FEMA, local, and national politicians.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana hosts seven parades, including the Krewe of Jupiter and Spanish Town. Parades such as the Krewe of Orion offer more of a traditional New Orleans style parade. All parades take place downtown, with the exception of the annual Southdowns parade, which runs through the Southdowns subdivision just south of Downtown Baton Rouge.
New Roads, Louisiana hosts the state's oldest Mardi Gras celebration outside New Orleans. The family-friendly celebration has been an annual event since 1922 and includes two parades on Fat Tuesday: the Community Center Carnival parade, one of the nation's oldest African-American sponsored events, which rolls in the morning; and the New Roads Lions Carnival parade, the first-known Mardi Gras parade to be staged as a charitable fundraiser, which rolls in the afternoon. Each parade consists of as many as 30 floats built fresh each year and 10 marching bands and drill units. Law enforcement officials have estimated New Roads parade attendance as high as 80,000.
Lafayette, Louisiana is home to the state's second largest Mardi Gras celebration, which includes eight parades of floats and bands during the Carnival season. The first parade, ten days before Mardi Gras, is the celebrity-led Krewe of Carnivale en Rio Parada, featuring over 600 riders. Parade royalty on Fat Tuesday includes King Gabriel and Queen Evangeline, named for the hero and heroine of Longfellow's epic poem, and King Toussaint L'Overture and Queen Suzanne Simonet, named for the great Haitian historical figures. Mardi Gras parades have been an annual tradition in Lafayette since 1934 and attendance on Shrove Tuesday has been estimated as high as 250,000 by police spokespersons.
Other places in the New Orleans metropolitan area also have celebrations; notably the suburbs of Metairie, La Place and Chalmette have large parades. Without the restrictions on commercial sponsorship of parades seen in Orleans Parish, there is much advertising and trademark placements on the parades in Metairie. Metairie parades also tend to be more family-oriented, and even include a children's parade.
Houma, Louisiana hosts a significant Mardi Gras celebration of nine parades, two of which roll on Shrove Tuesday, and the others on the two weekends preceding the big day. King Houmas rules on Fat Tuesday itself, and 100,000 have been estimated by law enforcement officials to line the route of his parade. Mardi Gras has been celebrated annually in Houma since 1947. Krewe of Hercules, Krewe of Aquarius, Krewe of Hyacinthians, Krewe of Aphrodite, Krewe of Mardi Gras, Krewe of Terreanians, Krewe of Cleopatra, Krewe of Houmas, and the Krewe of Kajuns make up the nine parades.
Other Louisiana cities
Other cities as well hold Mardi Gras parades, including Thibodaux, where five parades attract an estimated 20,000 spectators each, Lake Charles, Shreveport, La Place, Minden, Springhill, Natchitoches, Monroe, Columbia and Bogalusa. Mardi Gras is one of the exceptions to the Louisiana law against wearing hoods and masks in public, the other two being Halloween and religious beliefs.
In parts of the Cajun country, such as Eunice, Basile, Church Point and Mamou, the traditional Courir du Mardi Gras (French - Running of the Mardi Gras) is still run, sometimes by maskers on horseback led by "Le Capitaine" who gather ingredients for making the communal meal (usually a gumbo). Participants gather in costume and move from home to home requesting ingredients for the night's meal. This rural Mardi Gras draws on traditions that are centuries old as revelers sing "La Chanson de Mardi Gras," a song echoing medieval melodies. People escape from ordinary life partly through the alcohol many consume in their festive quest, but even more through the roles they portray. As they act out their parts in a wild, gaudy pageant, they are escaping from routine existence, freed from the restraints that confine them every other day in the year. The capitaine maintains control over the Mardi Gras. He issues instructions to the riders as they assemble early in the morning and then leads them on their run. When they arrive at a farm house, he obtains permission to enter private property, after which the riders may charge toward the house, where the Mardi Gras sing, dance, and beg until the owner offers them an ingredient for a gumbo. Often, the owner will throw a live chicken into the air that the Mardi Gras will chase, like football players trying to recover a fumble. By mid to late afternoon, the courir returns to town and parades down the main street on the way to the location where the evening gumbo will be prepared.