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The terms "Mardi Gras" (mär`dē grä) and "Mardi Gras season", in English, refer to events of the Carnival celebrations, ending on the day before Ash Wednesday. From the French term "Mardi Gras" (literally "Fat Tuesday"), has come to mean the whole period of activity related to those events, beyond just the single day, often called Mardi Gras Day or Fat Tuesday.The season can be designated by the year, as in "Mardi Gras 2008".

The time varies from city to city, as some traditions consider Mardi Gras as the Carnival period between Epiphany or Twelfth Night and Ash Wednesday. Others treat the final three-day period as being Mardi Gras. In Mobile, Alabamamarker, Mardi Gras events begin in November, followed by mystic society balls on Thanksgiving,then New Year's Eve, formerly with parades on New Year's Day, followed by parades and balls in January & February, celebrating up to midnight before Ash Wednesday.

Other cities most famous for their Mardi Gras celebrations include Rio de Janeiro, Brazilmarker; Sydney, Australiamarker and New Orleans, Louisianamarker. Many other places have important Mardi Gras celebrations as well.

Carnival is an important celebration in most of Europe (except in Ireland and the United Kingdom where the festival is called "shrovetide" ending on Shrove Tuesday, and pancakes are the tradition) and also in many parts of Latin America and the Caribbean.


In the Belgian city of Binchemarker the "Mardi Gras" festival is the most important day of the year and the summit of the Carnival of Binche.Around 1000 Gilles can be found dancing throughout the city from morning till well past dusk, whilst traditional carnival songs play.In 2003, the Carnival of Binche was proclaimed one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCOmarker.


The Carnival is an annual pre-Lenten celebration in Brazil. the cities of Recifemarker and Salvadormarker are well-known for their Carnival but the most notable is the one held in Rio de Janeiromarker. By Carnival's end on Mardi Gras, thousands of people will have attended the festivities.


Recifemarker's Carnival is nationally known and attracts thousands of people every year. The party starts a week before the official date, with electric trios "shaking" the Boa Viagem district. On Friday, people take to the streets to enjoy themselves to the sound of frevo and to dance with maracatu, ciranda, caboclinhos, afoxé, reggae and Mangue Bit groups. There is entertainment throughout the city, such as when more than a million people follow the Galo da Madrugada group. On Sunday the Pátio do Terço is the sight of Noite dos Tambores Silenciosos, where maracatus honor slaves that died in prison.

Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro has many Carnival choices, including the famous Escolas de Samba (Samba schools) parades in the sambódromomarker exhibition centre and the popular 'blocos de carnaval', which parade in almost every corner of the city. The most famous parades are the Cordão do Bola Preta with traditional carnival parades in the centre of the city, the Suvaco do Cristo parades in the Botanic Garden, Carmelitas parades in the hills of Santa Teresa, the Simpatia é Quase Amor is one of the most popular parades in Ipanema, and the Banda de Ipanema which attracts a wide range of revelers, including families and a wide spectrum of the gay population (notably spectacular drag queens).


According to the Guinness Book, the carnival or Carnaval of Salvador de Bahia is the biggest street party on the planet. For an entire week, almost two million people join the city's street celebrations, which are divided into circuits: Barra/Ondina, Campo Grande and Pelourinho. The music played during Carnaval includes Axé and Samba-reggae. Many "blocos" participate in Carnaval, the "blocos afros" like Malé Debalé, Olodum and Filhos de Gandhi being the most famous of them.


Mardi Gras celebrations are common throughout the country, especially in major cities like Torontomarker, Vancouvermarker, and Montrealmarker.


Quebecmarker is where Mardi Gras is most widely celebrated in Canada. Quebec Citymarker is famous for the Quebec Winter Carnival, which usually starts on the first Friday of January and continues for 17 days. With close to one million participants, it has grown to become the largest winter celebration in the world.

Lots of festivities are held at this event, including a winter amusement park with attractions such as skiing, snow rafting, and snow sled-slides. Montreal also holds a Mardi Gras celebration, with events such as music festivals, comedy festivals, food festivals, and street parties.

Caribbean nations

In the Caribbean, Carnival is celebrated on a number of islands: Antiguamarker, Arubamarker, Barbadosmarker, Bonairemarker, Curaçaomarker, Dominicamarker,Dominican Republicmarker, Grenadamarker, Guadeloupemarker, Guyanamarker, Haitimarker, Jamaicamarker, Saint Kitts and Nevismarker, St. Luciamarker, Saint Vincent and the Grenadinesmarker, St. Martinmarker, Trinidad and Tobagomarker and United States Virgin Islandsmarker are some of the celebrants.


Several Colombianmarker cities celebrate carnivals in the period between Twelfth Night and Mardi Gras. The most important of these celebrations is Barranquilla's Carnival (Spanish: Carnaval de Barranquilla), which starts on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday and ends on Mardi Gras. The roots of Barranquilla's Carnival date back to the 19th century, and is reputed for being second in size to Rio's, but is far less commercialized. The Carnival of Barranquilla was proclaimed by UNESCOmarker, in November 2003, as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.


In Denmark the celebration is called Fastelavn. Fastelavn evolved from the Roman Catholic tradition of celebrating in the days before Lent, but after Denmark became a Protestant nation, the holiday became less specifically religious. This holiday occurs seven weeks before Easter Sunday and is sometimes described as a Nordic Halloween with children dressing up in costumes and gathering treats for the Fastelavn feast. The holiday is generally considered to be a time for children's fun and family games. The term "Fastelavn" is a Low Saxon loanword imported from Northern Germanymarker: Fastelavend [ˈfastl̩.ˌɒːvm̩t], Fastelabend [ˈfastl̩.ˌɒːbm̩t] and Fastlaam (also spelled Fastlom) [ˈfastl̩ɒːm], related to Low Saxon Vastelaovend in the eastern parts of the Netherlandsmarker and to Dutch Vastenavond.


The city of Nice, Francemarker records that in the year of 1294, the Comte de Provence Charles II, Duc d’Anjou began taking his holidays in Nice to take part in the festivities of Carnival complete with balls, masquerades, bonfires, jugglers, mimes, and more. All that was required to take part was a costume and a mask. So much revelry was had that even the church could not control the more obscene aspects. The city's records, however, show that the celebration hit a high note in the period of time they call the Belle Époque, in the late 19th century to early 20th century before the World Wars. The city of Nice still holds its own Carnaval, lasting two weeks and celebrating Mardi Gras on the last day. The Nice Carnaval has parades of flower-covered floats and brilliant night-time light displays.

Other French cities also hold Carnavals.


The celebration of Mardi Gras in Germany is called Karneval, Fastnacht, or Fasching. Fastnacht means "Eve of the Beginning of the Fast", and thus it is celebrated until the day before Ash Wednesday. The most famous parades are held in Köln (Cologne), Mainz, and Düsseldorf on Monday before Ash Wednesday on "Rosenmontag" i.e. Lundi Gras.


The main celebration of Mardi Gras in Guatemala is an eight day celebration in Mazatenangomarker.


In Goamarker, India, the Carnival is celebrated for three days culminating on Fat Tuesday. Goa was a Portuguese colony until 1961. In Keralamarker State the carnival parade is called "Rasa" (fun in Sanskrit) and happens on the night before Ash Wednesday. There are typically no masks in the celebration, unlike in Goa.



Venetian shop window with Carnival masks
Venicemarker is home to one of the most famous Carnival celebrations in the world, in addition to one of the oldest. The Carnival of Venicemarker (or Carnevale di Venezia in Italian) was first recorded in 1268. The subversive nature of the festival is reflected in the many laws created over the centuries in Italy attempting to restrict celebrations and often banning the wearing of masks. Masks have always been a central feature of the Venetian carnival, traditionally people were allowed to wear them between the festival of Santo Stefano (St. Stephen's Day, at the start of the Carnival season and midnight of Shrove Tuesday). As masks were also allowed during Ascension and from October 5 to Christmas, people could spend a large proportion of the year in disguise [6507]. Maskmakers (mascherari) enjoyed a special position in society, with their own laws and their own guild. In 1797 Venice became part of the Austrian-held Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia when Napoleon signed the Treaty of Campo Formio. The Austrians took control of the city on January 18, 1798 and it fell into a decline which also effectively brought Carnival celebrations to a halt for almost two centuries. Carnival was outlawed by the fascist government in the 1930s. It was not until a modern mask shop was founded in the 1980s that Carnival enjoyed a revival.


Carnival is celebrated in several Panamanian cities such as Las Tablas, Ocu, Chitre, Penenomé and Panama City. Carnival in this country is characterized by the soaking of people mainly via the use of water trucks and hoses. The celebrations tend to last through a four day holiday weekend.


In Spain it's called 'Carnaval'. The Carnival in Santa Cruz de Tenerife is without doubt the most recognized carnival in Spain. It's celebrated in the month of February. During two weeks the "Murgas" take place and sing burlesque songs, the Queen of Carnival is elected within this time.


In Sweden the celebration is called Fettisdagen. It comes from the word "fett" (fat) and "tisdag" (Tuesday). Originally, this was the only day one should eat semlor (fat Tuesday buns), but these are now found in most grocery stores and bakeries preceding the holiday, and up until Easter.

United States

Mardi Gras 2009 Celebrations in the French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana USA (Picture taken outside Molly's Pub on Decatur Street)

While not observed nationally throughout the United States, a number of cities and regions in the country have notable celebrations. Mardi Gras arrived in North America as a sedate French Catholic tradition with the Le Moyne brothers, Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville and Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, in the late 17th century, when King Louis XIV sent the pair to defend France's claim on the territory of Louisiane, which included what are now the U.S. states of Alabamamarker, Mississippimarker, and Louisianamarker.

The expedition, led by Iberville, entered the mouth of the Mississippi River on the evening of March 2, 1699, Lundi Gras, not yet knowing it was the river explored and claimed for France by René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle in 1683. The party proceeded upstream to a place on the west bank about 60 miles downriver from where New Orleansmarker is today, where a small tributary emptied into the great river, and made camp. This was on March 3, 1699, Mardi Gras day, so in honor of this holiday, Iberville named the spot Point du Mardi Gras (French: "Mardi Gras Point") and called the small tributary Bayou Mardi Gras. Bienville went on to found the settlement of Mobile, Alabamamarker in 1702 as the first capital of French Louisiana, and in 1703 the Mardi Gras tradition began with celebrations by the French settlers in that city. By 1720, Biloximarker had been made capital of Louisiana. The French customs were introduced there at that time. In 1723, the capital of Louisiana was moved to New Orleansmarker, founded in 1718. The tradition there expanded to the point that it became synonymous with that city, and closely associated with the slogan Laissez les bon temps rouler and the nickname Big Easymarker. In more recent times several other U.S. cities without a French Catholic heritage have instituted the celebration of Mardi Gras.

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