Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras
Shrove Tuesday is the day before the religious start of Lent, featuring the festival of Mardi Gras. The exact date of celebration varies during the months of February and March. It is both a state holiday in Louisiana and an observance. Shrove Tuesday is also known as Fat Tuesday, as it is the day before Lent fasting begins on Ash Wednesday, meaning many feasts and celebrations take place. Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday and can be used to refer to the day before Ash Wednesday or the entire period of celebrations during the time between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday. Mobile, Alabama, begins celebrations in November, starting a period of balls and parades. Celebrations often include a King of the parade or festivities.
Many observers eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, as the dish traditionally uses very rich ingredients. At the festivals, masks and costumes are worn for the dancing and parades.
Mardi Gras is traditionally a large festival featuring parades and balls. The largest celebration takes place in New Orleans, Louisiana, with other significant celebrations throughout Louisiana and in some places in Alabama. The Mardi Gras celebrations in these areas focus heavily on the French Catholic tradition, as many of those communities settled in those southern states. Mardi Gras celebrations depend on the state in which the festivities take place:
Louisiana: New Orleans hosts the most popular and famous Mardi Gras celebration, with an estimated 500,000 celebrators congregating in the streets. The celebration in New Orleans lasts more than two weeks. Due to narrow streets, the city no longer holds a grand parade. Celebrators congregate in the French Quarter on Bourbon Street. New Orleans’s celebration tends to be the most raucous of celebration, marked by indulgent drinking and feasting, along with the practice of flashing, although the act is prohibited and may result in ticketing. Significant aspects include doubloons, which are large trinket coins, and King Cake, a coffee cake decorated with traditional Mardi Gras colors—purple, gold, and green. Other traditions include the Zulu, or Mardi Gras Coconut, one of the most sought after prizes that could be thrown to the crowd. Flambeau carriers, or parade beacons, carry torches and sometimes dance during the celebrations
Alabama: it is believed that Mobile holds the oldest Mardi Gras festivities, celebrating the holiday since 1703. A significant part of this celebration includes balls and events held by mystic societies, which are private groups made up of social and business leaders. These societies hold parades, balls, and other events for both private members and the public. Members who ride on float parades toss “throws,” or trinkets, to the crowds. This might include candy or fruits.
Florida: While the celebration in Pensacola, Florida includes the wilder side of other carnival festivities, it is also more family-oriented. They are put on by krewes, which are groups that organize carnival activities, which include typical festivities such as parades. Moon pies are also a traditional aspect of the Pensacola celebration. In Orlando, Universal Studios holds a Mardi Gras celebration that features popular musical acts.
Los Angeles: On the Hollywood Beach Boardwalk, a Mardi Gras celebration takes place every year that celebrates Cajun culture and food.
Other significant celebrations include San Francisco, San Diego, Lafayette, Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, Detroit, Mississippi, Missouri, Galveston, and Philadelphia.
Mardi Gras in Other Countries
Mardi Gras and Shrove Tuesday are not only celebrated in the United States, as it is a tradition brought to the United States by French Catholics. While these celebrations tend to be more religious in nature, they depend on the country:
- United Kingdom festivities consider the week before Shrove Tuesday, “Shrovetide,” a celebration marked by pancakes. Australia and New Zealand also celebrate this time with pancakes.
- Catholic countries and some Protestant countries call the holiday Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras, focusing on eating rich foods before the start of lent.
- Germans and German Americans call the holiday Fasnacht Day, named after a rich type of doughnut traditionally eaten.
- Italian, Spanish, or Portuguese speaking countries may celebrate the holiday similarly to carnival celebrations in the United States. In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the Brazilian Carnival takes place. Venice is famous for Carnevale, a 13th century masquerade celebration.
- In some Scandinavian countries, such as Denmark and Norway, traditions include eating cream filled pastries and feasting, for which children dress in costume.
While the holiday has early origins with the pagan festival of spring, like many pagan holidays, the celebration was replaced with a Christian one. The pagan celebrations were focused in Rome, which were intertwined with the Christian celebration in order to encourage citizens to take part without the outrage that would have resulted from completely abolishing pagan practices. The Christian holiday came about through the practice of indulging oneself prior to the fasting of Lent. The celebration was brought to the United States by French settlers, first hosted by Mobile in 1703. It has been celebrated every year since, except for a pause on the festivities during the American Civil War.
The tradition of parades began in 1827, when students in New Orleans dressed in costumes and congregated in the streets to dance.