Mardi Gras

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For other carnival season celebrations see the article on Carnival. For the 1972 album, see "Mardi Gras (album)

Mardi Gras (French for "Fat Tuesday") is the day before Ash Wednesday, and is also called "Shrove Tuesday". It is the final day of Carnival (pronounced "CAR-nuh-vul" in English; "car-nee-VAHL" in most Romance languages – and in New Orleans, Louisiana, because of its French heritage). It is a celebration that is held just before the beginning of the Christian liturgical season of Lent. The feast should not be confused with the Polish Fat Thursday.

Mardi Gras 2005 in New Orleans
Mardi Gras 2005 in New Orleans



The date can vary from February 3 to March 9 in non-leap years or February 4 to March 9 in leap years. Like Lent, the date is dependent on that of Easter.

Mardi Gras falls on the following dates in the following years:


Perhaps the cities most famous for their Mardi Gras celebrations include New Orleans (whose Carnival has become legendary), Rio de Janeiro (known for having the most ostentatious and licentious Carnival), Venice (whose Carnival traditions have their roots in pagan times, and were shaped into what they are today during the Renaissance), and Cologne. Many other places have important Mardi Gras celebrations as well. Carnival is an important celebration in most of Europe (Especially Southern Europe), and in many parts of Latin America and the Caribbean. Las Vegas and San Diego are cities with a growing celebration for this event as well.

Image:Making next years float.jpg


In Quebec the Carnival period traditionally coincided with the coldest days of the year when temperatures dropped to forty degrees below zero, linking it to snow and ice sports. As a result the biggest festival there, the Quebec City Winter Carnival was eventually moved from a lunar calendar, set with Easter in mind, to a solar calendar, and other winter carnivals in Quebec followed suit, abandoning the traditional Christian dates and placing the midwinter celebration at the end of January and the beginning of February, in order to avoid the danger of a late February or early March meltdown of carnival ice sculptures, ice castles and snow trails.


In Newfoundland Mardi Gras is celebrated the weekend before Halloween in the capital city of St. John's. Unlike more traditional Mardi Gras celebrations, the Newfoundland celebration is largely a commercial event centered around St. John's famous George Street pub district. Each year the street is closed off for a weekend of celebrations, with participants generally dressed in Halloween attire.


In Brazil, the Carnival celebrations in Recife, Olinda, Salvador are well-known, among others.

See: Brazilian Carnival


In the Caribbean, Carnival is celebrated on a number of islands. The most famous and largest-scale of these is in Trinidad and Tobago. Other Carnivals are held on Aruba, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and the French West Indies.

United States

Within the United States, it was originally celebrated by French settlers along the Mississippi coast of the Gulf of Mexico as a series of house parties. Recently Mardi Gras has taken root in several major cities in the USA as the event contributes to help local economies bring revenues.


Mobile, Alabama has perhaps the longest tradition of observed Mardi Gras celebration in the United States, and still celebrates it each year. Only New Orleans holds a larger Mardi Gras celebration. Celebration of Mardi Gras in Mobile dates back to French colonial times. Celebrations were halted with the American Civil War, but were revived with a parade by Joe Cain in 1866, whose memory is still honored each Carnival. The Mobile Mardi Gras season is always concluded by the Order of Myths parade, produced by the society of the same name. This is a special honor, because the 'double-O M's' are the oldest continuous Mardi Gras society in America. Throughout each parade, mystic maskers throw trinkets, beads, candy, coins and Moon Pies, a sweet baked good that combines a graham cracker like crust with marshmallow, and is then covered in a flavored frosting.


Pensacola, Florida is home to the third largest Mardi Gras Celebration in the United States. This is probably due to it being geographically near Mobile, Alabama, although other possibilities exist. The Pensacola celebrations also use Moon Pies in combination with beads, coins, and small candies.


Galveston, Texas is home to a notable Mardi Gras festival, which is held in the historic Strand District on Galveston Island on the Texas Gulf Coast. It is considerably smaller than New Orleans Mardi Gras, but still brings in many tourists to Galveston.

New Orleans

Main article: New Orleans Mardi Gras

Costumed musicians, French Quarter, New Orleans
Costumed musicians, French Quarter, New Orleans

New Orleans Mardi Gras is particularly well-known, often called "the greatest free show on earth". The celebrations draw many tourists to the city in addition to the celebrating locals for the parties and parades.

Mardi Gras came to New Orleans with the earliest French settlers. New Orleans developed new traditions, as have other places ever since. New Orleans traditions include Krewes such as the Krewe du Vieux, the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club, and the famous Rex parade, in addition to Mardi Gras Indians and king cake parties.

There are as many as 60 Krewes that have parades in the greater New Orleans area. Officially, Mardi Gras, more properly called Carnivale, starts at the end of the twelfth day of Christmas. Most parades, balls and other festivities occur on weeknights and weekends in the 2-week period before Mardi Gras Day. Though each parade is unique, there are certain common ingredients: 1) either a King or Queen who reigns over the parade, picked from the Krewe membership; 2) gaily colored floats, ridden by Krewe members, who throw various items, including beads, doubloons with the Krewe emblem and often, that year's parade's theme, and assorted other fun items; 3) marching bands, usually from high schools and universities, but often other invited guest bands.

Particularly since the inception of the larger parade organizations (sometimes called "super krewes") such as Bacchus and Endymion, it has become fashionable to invite Hollywood and other celebrities to act as Grand Marshals for parades.

Elsewhere in Louisiana

Mardi Gras is a legal holiday in Louisiana. Other places in the Greater New Orleans Metro Area also have celebrations; notably the suburb of Metairie, Louisiana has large parades. Without the restrictions on commercial ties to parades of Orleans Parish, there is much advertising and trademark placements on the parades there. Metairie parades also tend to be more family-oriented, and include even a Children's parade.

In parts of the Cajun country of southwestern Louisiana, the traditional Courir du Mardi Gras (French - Running of the Mardi Gras)is still run, sometimes by maskers on horseback who gather ingredients for making the communal meal. The townspeople will gather in costume and move from home to home requesting ingredients for the night's meal. The requested homeowner may comply with their wishes, usually by giving some form of vegetable or live animal, such as a chicken or pig, to the members of the run. The homeowner will often release the animal and make the runners catch it. In many cases, if the homeowner refuses to give an ingredient, the runners will steal one. These Courir can be witnessed in Church Point, Louisiana, Eunice, Louisiana, Mamou, Louisiana, Ville Platte, Louisiana, and Elton, Louisiana. The costumes used in these events are often homemade, emloying sheets, paints, and frequently masks of wire mesh with conical hats.

Many small towns and cities throughout southern Louisiana have Mardi Gras parades in the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras day, and particularly on that day.

There are also Mardi Gras parades in Northern Louisiana in Shreveport, Louisiana by the Krewe of Centaur and the Krewe of Gemini and in Monroe, Louisiana and West Monroe, Louisiana by the Krewe of Janus.

Mardi Gras is one of only three exceptions to the Louisiana law against wearing hoods and masks in public, the other two being Halloween and religious beliefs.

Saint Louis

The largest Mardi Gras celebration in the United States outside of New Orleans and Mobile is in the Soulard area of St. Louis, Missouri.

San Diego

As of 2005, there is a corporate sponsered party in the Gaslamp Quarter of downtown San Diego.


In Mexico, there are big Carnival celebrations every year in Mazatlan and Veracruz that include the election of a queen and street parades.


In Binche the "Mardi Gras" is the most important day of the year and the summit of the Carnival of Binche. Around 1000 Gilles are dancing through the city from 4.00 AM to late hours on traditional carnival songs. In 2003, the Carnival of Binche was proclaimed one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

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