New Orleans is probably the first place that comes to mind when you think of Mardi Gras, but did you know there are lots of other places that celebrate some version of Mardi Gras? Here are three that totally on my bucket list! By the way – Mardi Gras is on March 5 this year!
But First…What the heck is Mardi Gras anyway?
Mardi Gras is French for ‘Fat Tuesday’*. According to Catholic tradition, it’s the last day of celebrations before Lent begins. Lent (from the Anglo Saxon word lencten, which means "spring") is the 40 days beginning on Ash Wednesday** and ending on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter). Oh, and no counting Sundays in that 40 days. Lent is a time to repent and fast. Frequently, people give up something for Lent. It might be chocolate, coffee, meat, smoking, or whatever.
* Mardi Gras is also known as Shrove Tuesday in some parts of the world.
**Ash Wednesday starts Lent. On Ash Wednesday, Catholics go to church services and get an ash cross marked on their farheads as a symbolic way to repent for their sins. In a nutshell, the ash cross is the human body (in the Bible the body is composed of dust) and the body’s returns to dust in death.
Anyway, the Italians took things to a new level with Carniva – aka, Carnevale. Although it originally meant ‘farewell to the flesh’ (as many people give up meat for Lent), that kinda changed over time. Carnevale evolved into wild parties, parades, and costumes, and not just in Italy! It spread all over the world! Just take a look!
And now, the fun stuff! Where to go!
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The granddaddy of all celebrations, Carnaval is no one day deal - uh, uh- it’s a four-day celebration beginning this year on Sunday March 3, and ending on Ash Wednesday (March 6), BUT, when I checked on the Rio Carnaval Party Planner, “pre-celebrations” start on Friday, March 1! The Brazilians sure know how to throw a party! There are extravagant parades, samba school competitions and awesome food!
Good to know: While some of the street parties (balls) are free, others require tickets. Here’s a website I found that lists the free and ticketed balls.
Yup, Germany. While many cities celebrate fasching, fastnacht or karneval, Dusseldorf's Rosenmontag parade is a big deal. First held in 1825, the parade is on the Monday before Shrove Tuesday (you know, Mardi Gras). There are all kinds of celebrations leading up to the party, but I particularly love Old Hag’s Day (where women run through the streets chasing after men for kisses). You can find out more on the Dusseldorf Tourism website.
Introduced by 19th century French transplants as a Mardi Gras festival, the Carnaval de Quebec has turned into a celebration of all things Québécois. There are snow sculpture competitions, a canoe race down the frozen St. Lawrence River and crazy food to try like Beaver Tails (fried dough coated with cinnamon and sugar – what’s not to love?). But, my fave is the carnival mascot, Bonhomme – which looks like a slightly insane mashup of a snowman and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters!
Have you been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans or any of the places above? I’d love to hear about them on Facebook or in Traveleidoscope’s comment section!