Mardi Gras or 'Carnival Season' refers to the last day for Catholics to indulge before beginning to fast from Ash Wednesday. It is the last night for eating rich and fatty food before the fasting of the religious Lent season begins. Mardi Gras is the French for 'Fat Tuesday'. The day is also known as 'Shrove Tuesday' coming from the word shrive, which means 'confess'.
Every year, Mardi Gras is scheduled to be 47 days before Easter.
Mardi Gras is said to have existed many thousand years before Europeans arrived in America. It existed in the form of a circus type Roman festival called 'Lupercalia' (Honoring the Roman deity Lupus). As Christianity arrived in Rome, rituals and other celebrations were wholly adopted. From Rome, the celebrations spread to other European countries like England, Spain, Germany and France.
In France, it gradually became a custom to eat excessive meat, milk, eggs and cheese on the days leading to Lent and prepare for the coming several weeks of fasting.
When the French explorers Iberville and Bienville landed in Louisiana, they held the first Mardi Gras celebration on March 3, 1699 in New Orleans. In the years that came, New Orleans and other French settlements began celebrating the holiday together with parties, dinners and masked balls.
In 1827, costumes were donned by people and they danced through the streets of New Orleans. After ten years, the first Mardi Gras parade took place and is continued till date. In 1857, a society called the Mistick Krewe of Comus organized a torch-lit Mardi Gras procession with marching bands and since then krewes' celebratory organizations became a permanent part of celebrations in Louisiana on Mardi Gras.
In 1872, the Krewe of Rex established the colors of Mardi Gras to be purple (symbolizing justice), green (symbolizing faith) and gold (symbolizing power).
Krewes and Celebrations-
Many of the Mardi Gras events are organized by various krewes. There are about 60 krewes today that plan the grandest parades and balls of New Orleans' Mardi Gras.
Parades, people wearing all sorts of costumes and colorful masks and music are the highlight of Mardi Gras celebrations. More than 350 floats and about 15000 costumed paraders take to the streets with music and other festivities. Usually float riders toss 'throws' to the crowds like colorful beads, inexpensive toys, plastic cups and coins impressed with krewe logos.
Mardi Gras around the globe -
Many countries with significant Roman Catholic population hold festivals before the Lent season.
A week long Carnaval is held in Brazil during this period with the largest celebration occurring in Rio de Janeiro. About 2 million people attend this festival every year.
Also, the 'Quebec Winter Carnival' is hosted in Canada on a big scale with similar celebrations. Italy celebrates Mardi Gras with masquerade parades, jugglers, magicians, fireworks, songs, dances, stilt walkers, masks and colorful costumes. In Binche, Belgium the 'Carnival of Binche' takes place on a very vigorous scale with dancing being the show stealer.
Mardi Gras celebration is called Fettisdagen in Sweden coming from the word 'fett' meaning fat and "tisdag" meaning Tuesday, the only day to eat 'selma' (a traditional sweet roll).