Mardi Gras (/ˈmɑrdiɡrɑː/), also called Shrove Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday, in English, refers to events of the Carnival celebrations, beginning on or after the Christian feasts of the Epiphany (Three King’s Day) and culminating on the day before Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday”, reflecting the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season.
Related popular practices are associated with celebrations before the fasting and religious obligations associated with the penitential season of Lent. In countries such as England, Mardis Gras is also known as Shrove Tuesday, which is derived from the word shrive, meaning “confess”.
Popular practices on Mardi Gras include wearing masks and costumes, overturning social conventions, dancing, sports competitions, parades, debauchery, etc. Similar expressions to Mardi Gras appear in other European languages sharing the Christian tradition, as it is associated with the religious requirement for confession before Lent begins. In many areas, the term “Mardi Gras” has come to mean the whole period of activity related to the celebratory events, beyond just the single day. In some American cities, it is now called “Mardi Gras Day”. It also has become a single people’s counter to the coupled-centric Valentine’s Day.
The festival season varies from city to city, as some traditions consider Mardi Gras the entire period between Epiphany or Twelfth Night and Ash Wednesday. Others treat the final three-day period before Ash Wednesday as the Mardi Gras. In Mobile, Alabama, Mardi Gras-associated social events begin in November, followed by mystic society balls on Thanksgiving, then New Year’s Eve, followed by parades and balls in January and February, celebrating up to midnight before Ash Wednesday. In earlier times, parades were held on New Year’s Day. Other cities famous for Mardi Gras celebrations include Rio de Janeiro; Barranquilla, Colombia; Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago; Quebec City, Canada; Mazatlán and Sinaloa, Mexico; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Mobile, Alabama
Carnival is an important celebration in Anglican and Catholic European nations. In the United Kingdom and Ireland, the week before Ash Wednesday is called “shrovetide”, ending on Shrove Tuesday. It has its popular celebratory aspects, as well. Pancakes are a traditional food. Pancakes and related fried breads or pastries made with sugar, fat, and eggs are also traditionally consumed at this time in many parts of Latin America and the Caribbean.
In Italy Mardi Gras is called Martedí Grasso (Fat Tuesday). It’s the main day of Carnival along with the Thursday before, called Giovedí Grasso (Fat Thursday), which ratifies the start of the celebrations. The most famous Carnivals in Italy are in Venice, Viareggio and Ivrea. Ivrea has the characteristic “Battle of Oranges” that finds its roots in medieval times. Italy is the birthplace of Carnival celebrations, having its origins in the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia. The Italian version of the festival is spelled Carnevale.
Wikipedia contributors, “Mardi Gras,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed February 16, 2015).
“Venezia carnevale 6“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
“FrogPointStAnne2009Cropped” by Infrogmation of New Orleans – Photo by Infrogmation. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.