Mark Twain, an American writer and humorist (also the Father of American Literature), once said, “An American has not seen the United States until he has seen Mardi Gras in New Orleans.”
“Mardi” is the French for Tuesday and “Gras” means “fat”. In other words, it’s Fat Tuesday. aka “Shrove Tuesday”. In 2020 Mardi Gras in New Orleans, a legal holiday since 1875 when Governor Warmouth signed the Mardi Gras Act, falls on Tuesday, 25 February – the last day of the carnival season which always falls on the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in our Christian tradition. The word “carnival” is thought to mean “farewell to meat” or “farewell to flesh” . During the season of Lent , from Ash Wednesday until Easter, Christians particularly Catholics abstain from eating red meat.
Mardi Gras is also celebrated all over the world specifically in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in Mexico, and even in Quebec City, Canada. We can also consider the “Moriones Festival” as a Mardi Gras celebration , the Lenten rites held yearly on Holy Week in the capital city of Boac, in the Province of Marinduque, Philippines.
The Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, also called “the biggest show on earth”, is the largest in the world with 2 million people per day celebrating on the streets. Also a national holiday in Brazil, the festival is filled with revelers, floats, and adornments from more than 200 “samba” schools in Rio. The first Rio carnival (in Portugeese: carnaval) occurred in 1723.
The world’s 3rd largest Mardi Gras party after New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro is the Mexican Carnaval, also an official Mexican holiday, a 5-day festivity before Catholic Lent celebrated with parades, glittery and elaborate costumes, floats, and people merry-making – it’s a feathered, beaded and dancing in the streets, During the Moriones Festival in the Philippines, held for seven (7) days from Holy Monday to Easter Sunday, the masked and costumed Moriones (morion means head mask) replicating the garb of biblical Roman soldiers march around the town of Boac in a re-enacment of the search for Longinus, the Roman centurion , blind in one eye, who pierced the side of the crucified Jesus. These masked and costumed penitents, (many are farmers and fishermen) participate as their vow of penance or thanksgiving.
A celebration that rivals the revelry in New Orleans actually happens in Quebec City, Canada. The Quebec Winter Festival , the oldest of the winter festivals held its year, is also the world’s largest winter festival. It starts as a celebration based on the traditions of the Mardi Gras also brought here by the French culture like in New Orleans. Beginning just before Lent from end of January to mid February, the festival includes list of activities such as night parades, snow sculptures, shows, skating, and ice canoe race.
A time of merry-making and festivity, Mardi Gras in New Orleans is laced with tradition as carried and preserved by the many clubs in the city called “krewes” (pronounced “crews”) ‘ The krewes are the carnival parade organizations that sponsor extravagant parades and masquerade balls and parties in the weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday.
Although there is no general theme for the costumed, beaded and feathered Mardi Gras a specific subject is usually depicted in each individual parade.
However, the three colours of the Mardi Gras must have to be maintained: the purple to represent justice, the gold to exemplify power, and the green to symbolize faith. And anyone, any parade-goer or any spectator can come home with beads – plastic beads – thrown from the floats, aside from the coins called “doubloons”.
It is said that “the colours of the beads hold more significance than the act of throwing”. So, be sure you get the three colours of the beads to have power, faith and justice.