Mardi Gras, also called Shrove Tuesday, celebrates the ‘Carnival’ events which begins on or after the Christian feasts held on the Epiphany or Three Kings Day and ends on the day prior to Ash Wednesday.
The English translation of the French term ‘Mardi Gras’ is “Fat Tuesday” and is so named because of the practice of eating rich fatty food for the last night before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season starts.
This is an annual festival that is observed forty seven days prior to Easter and the date varies every year. The 2019 date for this festival is 5th of March.
There are a lot of customs and traditions related to this festival. The most popular ones are wearing costumes and masks, dancing, hosting sport competitions, social conventions and parades. The time span of this festival differs from place to place according to the native traditions. In New Orleans, Louisiana, Mardi Gras continues right till Ash Wednesday starting from the Twelfth Night. Similarly, in Mobile, Alabama, this festival is associated with events which take place in November ensued by mystic society balls on Thanksgiving, parades and balls on New Year’s Eve right up to the hour of midnight before Ash Wednesday. Various other cities which are well known for their Mardi Gras celebrations are George Town in Cayman Islands, Tobago, Rio de Janeiro, Quebec City in Canada, Barranquilla in Columbia and Sinaloa in Mexico.
For the Belgium city of Binche , this day is one of the most important days of the year. As many as 1000 Gilles dance all through the city right from morning until after dusk as traditional songs of this festival play in the background.
In Sydney, on this occasion, a parade known as Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras or just Mardi Gras is held. As the name suggests, this parade was started in the 1970’s to encourage and bring out universal and public acceptance of homosexuality and also for showing a reprisal to police brutality and torture.
This festival has been now accepted as one of the national festivals of this island. Along with celebrating the customary Fat Tuesday they also follow it up with a Food Festival on Monday and an all-day EDM day on Ash Wednesday. This 3 day event attracts thousands of visitors with increasing count every year along with many well-known international celebrities and performers. Tourists flock to this island during the festival in huge numbers, helping to make it a bigger event with each bygone year.
Here, celebrating Mardi Gras is a folk tradition and is mainly celebrated in Prague. The name of the festival native to this region is ‘Masopust’ meaning meat-fast i.e. the fast is started from this day.
Mardi Gras is called Martedi Grasso here. The most famous celebrations take place in Venice, Ivrea and Viareggio. The traditional event ‘Battle of Oranges’ has been taking place in Ivrea during this festival since the medieval times.
This festival is called Fettisdagen and is associated with eating ‘fastlagsbulle’ more commonly known as Semla which is a traditional sweet roll, being made in Sweden since years. The name Fettisdagen can be broken down to two words- fett (fat) and tisdag (Tuesday). Earlier, this was the only day in a year when people were supposed to eat fastlagsbullar.
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
The population becomes more than double during this time. This happens due to the huge celebrations and festive atmosphere. The state of Louisiana has declared this day to be a legal holiday. Mardi Gras falls on any Tuesday depending upon the date of Easter. One of the first events of this day is the Zulu Parade followed by the Rex Parade both of which end on Canal Street. Smaller parades with ‘truck floats’ trail the Rex Parade. Marching clubs like the Lyons club, the Jefferson City Buzzards, the Irish Channel Corner Club and KOE start right from dawn and make their way from Uptown to the French Quarter having at least one jazz band. At the opposite side of the old city, the Society of Saint Anne marches from the Bywater through French Quarter to join the Rex parade on Canal Street. All the different groups of Mardi Gras Indians comprising of about 38 tribes are divided into uptown and downtown tribes and both parade in their finest clothes on this day. Costumes and masks are frequently worn on this day. The laws that don’t allow concealing one’s identity are suspended for the day. Although, banks are kept close and places with security matters ask the people to remove the masks before entering. Inexpensive glass beads and toys are thrown from the floats to the ongoing parade people. Strictly, at the stroke of midnight at the end of Fat Tuesday, New Orleans police force demonstrates the clearing of Upper Bourbon Street, announcing that Mardi Gras is over and it is the start of Lent.
Mardi Gras is not a national holiday for United States but is observed in a number of cities like Mobile, New Orleans, Biloxi and Pensacola. Mobile is believed to have the oldest organized Mardi Gras festival in the US right from 1703. Colorful carnival floats are built for the parades and small gifts called “throws” are tossed down to the parade spectators. These gifts may be anything from candy, cookies, oranges, stuffed animals, doubloons, trinkets and the traditional moon pies. Formal masquerade balls are hosted which are only permitted to adults. There is a strict dress code that involves white tie with tails for the male guests and full-length evening gowns for the women. The mystic society members have exclusive masked costumes. These balls are usually supported by a theme which is implemented with the help of decorations, backdrops, costumes etc. this event provides a lot of entertainment, dancing, music, food and drinks to its guests. According to the statistic records of the Alabama Tourism Department, Mardi Gras in Mobile is the most popular and attended annual event of the state. This event had a footfall of 800,000 people in 2010 which rose to 1 million the next year.