The Mardi Gras season begins on or near the day of Epiphany (January 6) and continues until the day before Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras is translated from French and means “Fat Tuesday” or Shrove Tuesday. It was during this last day before Lent that people generally ate rich foods and enjoyed a night of revelry because they knew they would be fasting for the next 40-46 days.
Mardi Gras has been celebrated in Mobile, Alabama since 1703. So, if you’re looking for history there’s no better place to go. Celebrations in this Southern city begin as early as November. There will be a variety of events including a Thanksgiving ball. You can also find celebrations in cities such as San Diego, California, Lafayette, Louisiana and Miami, Florida which hosts the largest Hispanic festival in the United States.
Of course, possibly the most well-known Mardi Gras location is New Orleans, Louisiana. You may attend other celebrations around the world but you’ll never experience Mardi Gras the same way as in New Orleans. Each year over 80,000 revelers converge on the city to attend the parties and parades.
Perhaps Canada isn’t your first choice to spend Mardi Gras, but you may be surprised at how it is celebrated there. Major cities such as Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto will have Mardi Gras festivities. However, if you’re in Canada during Mardi Gras, be sure to stop in Quebec City. They’ll have festivals galore – music, comedy, food – and don’t forget the parades and street parties.
The precursor to Mardi Gras in Italy is called Carnevale. It is a time of masquerade processions, parades, elaborate costumes and masks and more in the weeks leading to Ash Wednesday. The celebrations reach a climax on Martedí Grasso. Milan and Venice are two Italian cities you may want to visit during Mardi Gras.
Carnaval is similar to Mardi Gras and is what is celebrated in the Netherlands. ‘Carne Vale’ means ‘goodbye to meat’ in Latin. You might expect to find festivals in the cities of Limburg and Noord-Brabant.
The Mardi Gras-type celebration in Sweden is called Fettisdagen which comes from the Swedish words ‘fett’ and ‘tisdag’ which mean fat Tuesday. A traditional food you might enjoy in Sweden is semlor - a type of cream bun which is enjoyed until Easter.
South and Central America
Rio de Janeiro claims to be the “Carnival Capital of the World.” If you were to visit Rio de Janeiro during the weeks leading up to Easter, you would be greeted by large celebrations, sequins and feathers, and samba music. You’ll also find celebrations in Salvador de Bahia, Recife and Olinda in Brazil. Columbia, Peru, Venezuela and Panama also have Carnival-type celebrations. In Central America you may find celebrations in February, and in Honduras and Nicaragua in May.
Each place which celebrates Mardi Gras or Carnival may do so in a different way or even at a different time. However, if you’re interested in finding somewhere to celebrate prior to Ash Wednesday, there are many places you can go. If you’ve never attended Mardi Gras or Carnival, next year might be the year to experience Mardi Gras somewhere near you.