Mardi Gras! ...and Lent
Every year, Catholics have a period of time before Easter called Lent. This lasts for 40 days and is generally a very serious time when people fast(stop eating or eat less for some time) or give up something they like, such as alcohol, chocolate, or meat. So, before all the seriousness, people like to throw a huge party called “Mardi Gras” (“Fat Tuesday,” in French).
In the USA, the tradition of Mardi Gras celebrations started mainly in New Orleans, Louisiana, where many people speak a dialect of French called Creole, which explains the French name. Typically, Mardi Gras begins on January 6, or “( Three) Kings Day” and continues until Ash Wednesday (the official first day of Lent when Catholics and some Protestants get crosses on their foreheads drawn with ash). Since it’s the last day to celebrate, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday is often the biggest day for celebration, with a lot of food. Thus, it is called Fat Tuesday. In New Orleans, the most famous food for this day is a pastry called a “King Cake,” which is baked with a plastic baby inside. Traditionally, people eat this cake together at a Fat Tuesday party. The person who gets the slice of cake with the baby inside has to throw the party the next year.
Over time, this tradition has changed. So, these days, the celebrations in New Orleans often seem to be more about drinking and going to parades, particularly for tourists. At these parades, many people dress in green, purple, and yellow (the colors of Mardi Gras), some people wear masks, and many women flash people in the parade ( lift their shirts to show their breasts). In response, the people in the parade throw plastic beads (necklaces) at them, which the women wear all night.
The length of Mardi Gras varies between places, but in the USA, it can be quite long. Now the parades and celebrations go beyond January and February (when Ash Wednesday takes place) and outside New Orleans. Even theme parks like Universal Studios have Mardi Gras celebrations from February through April, which include concerts, drinking, and parades with beads thrown at everyone- but no flashing here, these parades are family-friendly!
Other popular Mardi Gras celebrations include Carnival (meaning “farewell to meat”) in Rio de Janeiro and Venice, Italy (where it's called Carnivale). Carnival is an important celebration in much of Europe and Latin America. In Ireland and the United Kingdom the tradition is a little different. In these places, the festival is called “shrovetide,” which ends on Shrove Tuesday or “Pancake Day,” named for the traditional pancakes everyone eats, regardless of religion. In Sydney, Australia, Mardi Gras is the name of the Gay Pride festival, which also includes parades and concerts, but has no religious meaning. So, if you're looking to celebrate Carnival/Mardi Gras, there are many places and traditions to choose from before Lent. Now that Lent has started, however, get yourself to the last of the celebrations in Florida, where you can earn some beads at the parades in Universal Studios, and you won't even have to take your shirt off!