The term “Mardi Gras” refers to activities associated with the Carnival festival, which start on or around the Christian holiday of the Epiphany (also known as Three Kings Day) and end on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. French meaning “Fat Tuesday,” Mardi Gras refers to the custom of eating fatty, rich dishes on the last night before the traditional sacrifices and fasting of the Lenten season.
Before the fasting and religious responsibilities connected with the penitential season of Lent, Shrovetide celebrations are associated with similar common behaviors. Mardi Gras is most commonly known as Pancake Day or (traditionally) Shrove Tuesday in places like the United Kingdom (derived from the word shrive, meaning “to administer the sacrament of confession to; to absolve”).
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Traditions Related To Mardi Gras.
The time leading up to the festival varies from place to city since some customs, like the one in New Orleans, Louisiana, regard Mardi Gras to last from Twelfth Night (the final night of Christmas that kicks off Epiphany) to Ash Wednesday. Some people refer to the last three days preceding Ash Wednesday as Mardi Gras.
In Mobile, Alabama, Mardi Gras-related social festivities start in November and continue through Thanksgiving, mystic society balls, New Year’s Eve, parades, and balls in January and February, with celebrations lasting until midnight before Ash Wednesday.
On New Year’s Day in the past, parades were held. In Catholic and Anglican European nations, Carnival is a significant holiday.
One of the most well-known carnivals in Belgium is the three-day event held in Binche, close to Mons. It occurs soon before Lent, around Shrove Tuesday (or Mardi Gras). Gilles performers dress elaborately in red, black, and yellow, the national colors. They hurl oranges into the throng during the parade. It was named one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2003.
In The Czech Republic.
A folk custom known as Masopust, or Mardi Gras, exists in the Czech Republic (meat-fast, i.e. beginning of the fast there). The custom is still alive in towns like Staré Hamry, whose door-to-door processions are on the UNESCO World Intangible Cultural Heritage List. There are celebrations everywhere, including in Prague.
The same-day celebration is known by many different names in Germany, including Schmutziger Donnerstag or Fetter Donnerstag (Fat Thursday), Unsinniger Donnerstag, Weiberfastnacht, Greesentag, and others. Depending on the region, these terms may also refer to only a portion of the larger carnival festivities that take place one or even two weeks before Ash Wednesday and are referred to as Karneval, Fasching, or Fastnacht.
Schmutzig, which in standard German means “dirty,” is referred to as “lard” (Schmalz) or “fat” in Alemannic dialects; it is also known as “Greasy Thursday” because that is when the last of the winter’s supplies of lard and butter were traditionally devoured before the fast. Fastnacht, which translates to “Eve of the Fast,” is a phrase that refers to the entire carnival season. On November 11 at 11:11 a.m., the carnival season officially begins.
In The United States.
Although not a national holiday in the United States, there are major celebrations in a number of traditionally French-speaking cities and regions of the nation. In the late 17th century, when King Louis XIV dispatched the Le Moyne brothers, Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, to defend France’s claim on the territory of Louisiane, which included what is now the U.S. states of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and a portion of eastern Texas, Mardi Gras made its way to North America as a French Catholic tradition.
On the evening of Lundi Gras, 2 March 1699 (new style), the expedition under the command of Iberville sailed into the mouth of the Mississippi River. They were unaware that it was the river René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle investigated and claimed for France in 1683. The group continued upstream, setting up camp roughly 60 miles (100 km) downstream of where New Orleans is located on the east bank.
Iberville gave the area the names Point du Mardi Gras (French: “Mardi Gras Point”) and Bayou Mardi Gras in honor of Mardi Gras, which occurred on March 3rd, 1699. In order to establish Mobile, Alabama as the first capital of French Louisiana, Bienville went on doing so.
The first organized Mardi Gras celebration tradition in what would eventually become the United States was started in Mobile, Alabama, in 1703. The Boeuf Gras Society, the first unofficial mystic society or krewe, was founded in Mobile in 1711. Biloxi became Louisiana’s capital in 1720. The colonists who had come there had brought the French Mardi Gras traditions with them.
New Orleans, established in 1718, became the new location of Louisiana’s capital in 1723. It is said that the first Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans occurred in 1837. Beyond individuals of French or Catholic background, the practice in New Orleans spread to the point where it was perceived by the general public as being synonymous with the city.
The final parades of the season conclude on Mardi Gras Day, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday when the festivities end with the Meeting of the Courts (known locally as the Rex Ball). There are ongoing Mardi Gras celebrations in other Gulf Coast cities with a history of early French colonialism, including Pensacola, Florida; Galveston, Texas; Lake Charles and Lafayette, Louisiana; and, further north, Natchez, Mississippi and Alexandria, Louisiana.
The Knights of Momus (referred to only by their initials “K.O.M.”) and the Knights of Myth, two rival Mardi Gras societies or “Krewes,” developed night parades, masked balls, exquisite costumes, and elaborate invitations in 1871, the first year that Mardi Gras was celebrated on a large scale in Galveston. For a torch-lit night parade, the Knights of Momus, led by several notable Galvestonians, painted horse-drawn wagons.
The parade through downtown Galveston culminated at Turner Hall with a presentation of tableaux and a spectacular gala, featuring themes like “The Crusades,” “Peter the Great,” and “Ancient France.”
The French fur traders who built St. Louis, Missouri, assert that it is home to the second-largest Mardi Gras celebration in the country. Many thousands of people attend the celebration, which takes place in the ancient French suburb of Soulard. The St. Louis Mardi Gras celebrations just began in the 1980s, despite being originated in the 1760s. The city’s festivities start on Epiphany with “12th night” and culminate on Fat Tuesday. Numerous parades honoring the city’s strong French Catholic roots take place throughout the season.
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