Mardi Gras: a worldwide celebration

During the month of February, countries all around the world celebrate the religious holiday of Carnival which includes the day of "Mardis Gras", also known as "Fat Tuesday" in English. Mardis Gras celebrations occur the day before Ash Wednesday and the start of the season of Lent, representing one last day to indulge before fasting or giving up material goods and foods for Lent. Multiple countries host festivals, parades, and parties for the celebration, characterized by extravagant costumes and rich foods. Although Mardis Gras is known for being hugely celebrated in Latin American countries, it is also celebrated in many countries in Europe and in the United States. Each country treats Mardis Gras slightly differently, as it is predominantly a religious holiday with different meanings to separate branches of Christianity. The actual holiday of Mardis Gras, however, is universally accepted as the period before the Easter and Lenten season that culminates with a celebration of faith. Each country that celebrates Mardis Gras adds it's own tradition and culture to the festivities, but the message and meaning that Mardis Gras represents is the same throughout the world, no matter what the cultural differences may be.


Belgium’s Carnival festivities, called Carnival of Binche, mainly take place in the city of Binche where more than 1000 Gilles dance around the city in celebration. A Gille is a traditional character who goes out at 4 a.m. to sing traditional songs and perform dances until the late hours of the night before Ash Wednesday.These participating Gilles are all male and wear a special costume with clogs to keep the tradition alive. In 2003, this carnival was proclaimed as one of the “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage” by UNESCO.


The Carnival celebration in Germany goes by three different names, indicating the three different versions of Carnival celebrated: Fasching, Fastnacht, and Karneval. During these days of Carnival, elaborate balls and parades are held all across the country. Karneval is the word used for the Rhenish version of carnival in northwest Germany. Fasching refers to a similar celebration style in southern Germany and Austria. The big event in the Karneval ceremonies is the Rose Monday parade, while in the Fasching version, the most important event is the parade that takes place on Carnival Sunday. Fastnacht is the term used for the Fasching celebrations in Swabia, Switzerland, and in the Northern city of Mainz.


Italy’s Carnival celebration is known as Martedi Grasso. Most of the festivities take place in Venice, Viareggio, and Ivrea. A unique celebration that occurs in Ivrea is the traditional “Battle of Oranges”. This “battle” includes groups of celebrators throwing oranges at each other from their established forts. This fascinating traditional has roots dating all the way back to the twelfth century; the era of all Carnival celebration origins. This “battle” was first initiated in ancient Rome as part of the pagan festival of Saturnalia.  


The Carnival celebrations in the Netherlands are quite similar to those in Venice. One main difference between the two celebrations is the role-dressing that happens in the Netherlands. People dress up as famous characters and historical figures, much like our American holiday of Halloween. An important event that takes place among the music, the dances, and the parades is the key transfer ceremony. In this ceremony, the mayor gives the key of the city to the Prince of Carnival; this action symbolizes the transfer of power from the governmental authority to the people. Another interesting quirk about the Netherland’s Carnival is the importance the people put on the number 11. It is considered sacred and lucky within those days.


Fastan, the Swedish version of Carnival, is like most other country’s celebration; music, dancing, parading, and feasting on Fat Tuesday. Two major foods that are consumed in this festival are Fettisdagshulle and semla. Fettisdagshulle is a lot like a sweet roll, while semla is described as a bread cake with either almond cream or sweet cream filling.

The United Kingdom and Ireland:

The Carnival festivities that occur in the United Kingdom as well as Ireland are very similar to the other countries except for those taking place on Fat Tuesday; the heart of the Carnival celebration. Fat Tuesday here is called Shrovetide, or more commonly, Pancake Tuesday. On this day, thousands of people partake in the tradition of binging on pancakes before the start of Lent. The food of pancake was chosen to represent all of the rich ingredients that will be fasted from during Lenten season. This tradition is kept by many citizens of religious backgrounds such as: Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, and Roman Catholic.


If you’ve seen the movie Rio, you know just how colorful and fun the Carnival festivities are in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. One could never be bored with all the music, dancing, parades, pageantries, performances, and parties. Many organizations and school groups also compete in percussion and dancing throughout the several days. Like the tradition in the Netherlands, the mayor of Rio de Janeiro gives the key of the city to the Carnival King for the duration of Carnival. During this time of the year, Rio gets seventy percent of its tourists pouring in to join the fun. The traditional Brazilian dance of samba is heavily incorporated into the celebration, especially in the extravaganza parade that takes place on Saturday night before Ash Wednesday. This huge parade runs right through a sambadrome arena that is specially constructed for this holiday. It has elongated arena seating stretching for miles for its thousands upon thousands of viewers.

United States:

New Orleans, Louisiana is the home to the massive Mardi Gras celebration in the United States. In the French Quarter, festivities such as playing jazz music, dancing, parading in the streets, and throwing beads to the crowds take place. Many attendees wear ornate masks and costumes of things ranging from popular television characters to crazy zoo animals. The tradition of throwing purple, green, and gold beads originates from royals in previous centuries throwing beads to the onlooking crowds rather than their own medallions. Common foods snacked upon during this time are the famous King Cake, gumbo, and red beans.


Though each culture and country may celebrate it differently, the festival of Carnival and Mardi Gras is an important religious celebration that will forever include food, fun, and  traditional festivities.