This Year, Mardi Gras will be celebrated on the 17th of February. The name Mardi Gras is the French for Fat Tuesday. But what is really Mardi Gras? What is the celebration about and where does it come from?
Originally, the name comes from fattening the calf and feasting on it. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and is preceded by Fat Tuesday: Mardi Gras, the last day during which Christians can eat fatty food before a 40 days fast (Lent). Lent is the period leading up to Easter. Mardi Gras is said to have been created for one last day of unlimited fun and eating before giving up so much during Lent, because Lent requires Catholics to fast, or to give up certain foods and make resolutions requiring self-discipline. A fattened calf was slaughtered for the Mardi Gras feast, yet in some cultures, pancakes became a traditional meal because the milk and butter were forbidden during Lent.
If Mardi Gras finds its roots in Christian culture, its celebration on the other hand doesn’t really fit in with what people do on other Christian holidays. Indeed, Christmas, Easter and Mardi Gras all include a very large and very rich meal, yet only Mardi Gras includes masks, costumes, and unlimited festivities. For this reason, one can say that Mardi Gras is a mix of Catholic and pagan traditions: the holiday is Catholic, and the ways of celebrating comes from local traditions.
Mardi Gras Celebrations in France
Mardi Gras is celebrated throughout the French territory, especially in Paris and Nice. There is the famous Carnaval de Nice, one of the largest carnivals in the world. This year the carnival will be taking place from February 15th to March 6th, the theme is Roi des 5 Continents (King of the 5 continents). The word carnaval comes from the Latin expression carne levare, to remove the meat.
During the carnival, people enjoy eating beignets (a kind of doughnut) and crêpes (thin pancakes). While the religious history tends to be forgotten, Mardi Gras is more an occasion to wear beautiful masks and colourful costumes, and party in the streets!
If Mardi Gras is largely celebrated in France, it is also celebrated abroad.
Francophone Mardi Gras Celebrations
The first U.S. Mardi Gras celebration was took place in modern-day Mobile, Alabama (a former in French colony) in 1703. The celebration became popular and quickly spread throughout the rest of the French colonies in North America.
For this reason, today one can celebrate a French-style Mardi Gras abroad: In Québec, or in Louisiana (New Orleans).