It’s that time of the year when many of us celebrate Mardi Gras with parades, costumes, masks, music and lots of food. It is definitely a fun time and although the biggest celebration takes place in New Orleans, living in Central Florida allows me to be part of some great parties. Places like Universal Studios Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay have some of the best Mardi Gras celebrations in the area, but do you know why we celebrate it? Here are five things you didn’t know about Mardi Gras.
- Different Names Same Celebration
Mardi Gras is also known as Carnaval or Carnival and also as Fat Tuesday. “Mardi” is the French word for Tuesday, and “Gras” is the French word for Fat. You will hear people referring to Mardi Gras using these different names depending where they are from, either from another country or different regions within the United States.
- It Became a Christian Holiday
The reason some people refer to Mardi Gras as Fat Tuesday is because according to tradition it has been celebrated on Fat Tuesday, which is the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. Lent is the time period of 40 days of fasting and penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. For this reason, Mardi Gras is celebrated mostly in countries with the biggest Roman Catholic populations.
- A Celebration of Food
As per tradition, in the days prior to Lent more specifically on that Tuesday, people would eat a lot and would binge on all the heavy and fat foods like red meat, eggs, milk and cheese so the name Fat Tuesday was very appropriate. This was done in anticipation of the several weeks of eating only fish and all types of fasting during Lent. The other names Carnaval or Carnival, also seem to come from this eating tradition. In Medieval Latin, the word “Carnelevarium” means to take away or remove meat, from the Latin word “Carnem” which means meat.
- How it got Started
Mardi Gras is a traditional celebration that goes back hundreds even thousands of years to celebrations of spring and fertility way before Christianity. However, when Christianity started in Rome, a local leader thought it would be a good idea to combine beliefs by having Mardi Gras follow the same calendar of the Christian events, so Mardi Gras started to be celebrated right before the Christian season of Lent. Along with Christianity, Mardi Gras spread from Rome to other European countries then the rest of the world.
- Celebrations Around the World
In the United States, New Orleans hosts the biggest Mardi Gras celebration and Louisiana is the only American State to have Mardi Gras as an actual Holiday.
In Brazil, the Carnaval celebration lasts for about a week and many of those days being considered official Holidays in the country. The biggest parade being in the southern region in the city of Rio de Janeiro where they have the biggest street parade in a competition form with floats and displays from the best Samba schools with different themes each year.
In France, the city of Nice has a huge Carnival parade that each year there is a different theme for the several parade floats and participants to follow, including in the beautiful Battle of Flowers, in which thousands of flowers are thrown to the audience.
In Germany, the celebration is known as Karneval, Fastnacht or Fasching which includes parades, costume balls and a tradition that encourages women to cut off men’s ties.
Regardless of how it started and how it evolved over the years, decades and centuries, one thing is for sure, Mardi Gras is one of the best celebrations to be a part of. It brings people together and it brings happiness all around. No matter where you are located, you can always put a mask on, eat and dance!
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