While we associate Shove Tuesday in the UK with pancakes, in France and French speaking areas of the world, it has another meaning altogether. Mardi Gras is celebrated in cities across the world. But, it is synonymous with a number of places in particular. But what is Mardi Gras and how is it celebrated? We have taken a look at this exciting and fun celebration to help you understand more about the Mardi Gras carnival!
What is Mardi Gras?
Mardi Gras translates directly to English as Fat Tuesday. It is the annual celebration that takes place before the start of Lent in the Christian faith. Very similar to the Spanish celebration Carnival. Mardi Gras is celebrated with parties, music and indulging in food and drink to your hearts content.
The fact that Mardi Gras translates to Fat Tuesday is a key indicator on the main focus of the celebrations. Food and drink (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) flow like water throughout the celebrations.
As well as the gluttonous side of the festivities, there are street parades, costumes and entertainment. It should also take note that celebrations are not restricted to France only. French areas of cities across the world take part in the celebrations with some being more famous than others.
When is Mardi Gras?
Mardi Gras is officially classed as the last Tuesday before the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday. However, certain cities and areas have extended celebrations that take place days before the official day.
In Mobile, Alabama in the USA, the Mardi Gras celebrations actually start as early as November the previous year! But, the standard practice is for 3 days of celebrations culminating with the day itself and parties taking place up until midnight on Shrove Tuesday.
Where are the biggest Mardi Gras celebrations?
Mardi Gras in Dunkirk
With an average attendance of 40,000 people each year, Dunkirk Mardi Gras is a colourful and exciting affair. It’s roots are not only linked to the Christian festival either. It also has links to the 1600’s when local fisherman would head off for long trips to the edge of Iceland to catch fish for the community. Prior to their heading off, boat owners would give the fisherman a ‘foye’, or advance, on their salary. This would allow them the chance to feast with their family one last time before their departure.
The celebrations in Dunkirk are still related to the fishing industry. Celebrations on Shrove Tuesday itself feature the mayor throwing 500kg of Herring into the gathered crowds for them to collect. But the festivities are not just focused on a single day. Celebrations for Mardi Gras start months ahead of the start of lent. Parties and parades taking place in the local area on weekend days weeks ahead of the big day.
Mardi Gras in Nice
Outside of Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans, the Mardi Gras celebrations of Nice are one of the most famous in the world. Dating back to 1294, the festivities in Nice take place over a 2 week period in the lead up to the big day.
Over 200,000 people attend the celebrations in the city. Parades, costumes, entertainers and fireworks are the main attraction. The parades themselves take place both at day and night with dozens of floats and hundreds of participants in costumes taking part.
The event culminates in the burning of an effigy of a mock king. This burning dates back to the late 19th century. After a visit from the then king of Sardinia, Charles-Felix, the people of Nice decided to create a representation of the royal for the next event. The burning of the mock king is not a slight at the royal for not attending, but more a signal that the celebrations are coming to an end.
Celebrations Outside of France
Outside of France, Mardi Gras is celebrated in many other countries, each with their own traditions.
Two of the most famous celebrations of the event are in New Orleans, Louisiana and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. These events vary greatly from each other as well as the events in France itself.
New Orleans is famous for its celebrations of Mardi Gras where attendees take part in copious eating, drinking, dancing and revelling. The most familiar sight of Mardi Gras in New Orleans is the throwing of beads. These strings of beads have their history in the late 19th Century when a carnival king threw our fake gems to his supporters. The tradition has continued over the centuries. With people throwing beads at each other from floats in the parade and balconies which line the streets to revellers below.
The Rio de Janeiro Carnival is probably considered to be the biggest party in the world. With purpose built structures to view the parade from, thousands of participants and colourful and vibrant costumes. The carnival in Rio is like no other (maybe only northeast of Brazil). There are multiple parades across the festive period! Revellers are treated to samba music, beautifully designed costumes and floats in a giant party atmosphere.
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