One of the most notably celebrated carnivals of today, the festivities of Mardi Gras indeed form a cultural phenomenon. The celebrations date back thousands of years to Pagan Spring and Fertility rites and have assumed their modern day form through evolution and religious adaption over time. Countries with large Roman Catholic populations celebrate Mardi Gras with much pomp and gusto on the day before the beginning of the Lent season (traditional season of abstinence).
‘Mardi Gras’ is indeed French for ‘Fat Tuesday’ and culminates on Ash Wednesday before the Lent season. The celebrations of Mardi Gras basically represents a last night of indulgence before the season of abstinence begins. Thousands of tourist flock to marvel at the public festivities that is the Mardi Gras of Brazil, Venice and New Orleans.
Traditionally, the celebrations endorse one final period of debauchery before the Lent season. In olden days, the celebrations basically centred around binge eating of wine, cheese and meat around the house. Today, Mardi Gras has come to stand for flamboyant celebrations which often involve masquerades, street parties, lavish dinners, dances, parades, sports competitions, pageants and a basic overturning of social conventions. No doubt the celebrations have caught on to the wider public fancy. In fact Mardi Gras is now supposed to be the singles’ answer to the couple-centric celebrations of St. Valentine’s Day.
Mardi Gras in the United States
Mardi Gras was never a traditional American holiday. In 1699 French explorers Iberville and Bienville landed in present day Louisiana and introduced the concept of Madri Gras to American soil. The first American Mardi Gras is believed to have been celebrated on March 3 the same year. Today New Orleans is the epicentre of the celebrations in America and has almost become synonymous with Mardi Gras holidays.
Anyway, in 1699 Iberville and Bienville had a small celebration and named the place of celebration Point du Mardi Gras. Over the following decades, the celebrations gathered popularity in the French settlements of Louisiana, New Orleans and the surrounding areas. Street celebrations, Masked balls and elaborate dinners took over. However after Spanish occupation of New Orleans, the rowdy rituals were banned. Mardi Gras in New Orleans was revived only after Louisiana became a US state in 1812.
Come 1827 and a group of students took over the streets of New Orleans. They danced in emulation of the Mardi Gras revelry and celebrations of France. Ten years later was recorded the first New Orleans Mardi Gras Parade. In 1857, a secret society of New Orleans businessmen called the Mistick Krewe of Comus organized a torch-lit procession with marching bands and rolling floats redefining the standards for future public celebrations in the city. The Krewes have remained a prominent fixture of the Carnival scene in Louisiana ever since then. The other lasting customs that one can observe in New Orleans Mardi Gras celebrations include throwing beads, trinkets, wearing masks, decorating floats and eating King Cake.
Mardi Gras is a legal holiday in the state of Louisiana. Celebrations are also carried out in other parts of America like Alabama and MIssissippi. Traditions and customs understandably vary from place to place as can be easily concluded.
Mardi Gras Celebrations around the world
Pre Lent activities are celebrated with equal spirits and gusto in many parts of the world. The carnival activities last for a week in Brazil and the customs are a wonderful amalgamations of African, European and native traditions, customs and influences. The traditional dance form Samba is a crowd puller and an integral part of the Mardi Gras parades. Large processions are taken out in different cities with large samba dromes. The celebrations reach a fever pitch in the capital city Rio de Janeiro where millions of people literally take to the streets to be a part of the celebrations. Salvadore is another Brazlian city where the carnival is notably and exuberantly celebrated.
The Canadian city of Quebec hosts the famous Quebec winter carnival in this time.
Karneval in Germany
In Germany, the festivities are called Karneval. Customs include flamboyant parades, costume balls and women cutting off men’s ties.
Carnevalle in Italy
The Italian celebrations date back to the 13th century. The Venetian Carnevalle celebrations are marked by the elaborate Venetian masks and an elegant mystic touch with the masquerade balls. The Italian town Ivrea has its characteristic ” Battle of Oranges”, a practice whose roots go back to the Medieval times.
Carnival of Binche
The Carnival of Binche is indeed a crowd puller of the Belgian city of Binch. On the day of celebrations traditional carnival songs are played in the city throughout the day as thousands of Gilles dance from morning past dusk as an important part of the celebrations. In 2003, the “Carnival of Binche” was proclaimed one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
Indeed, Mardi Gras is celebrated with varying customs and practices throughout the world. However the fact that the carnivals ultimately celebrate the exuberant human spirit and all that is beautiful can not be denied. Mardi Gras celebrations have thus become highly anticipate din different parts of the world today.