What's Mardi Gras?
And why does
The Latin-derived name is also spelled Carnaval (in Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries) or Carnevale (in Italian speaking countries).
The word comes from either “carne levare”, which means "remove meat" or from “carne vale” which means “farewell to meat". The word "carne" may also be translated as “flesh” thus the name becomes “a farewell to flesh", a phrase which is embraced by some to embolden the festival's carefree spirit !
Others argue that the origin of the word is from "carrus navalis" which was the name for an adorned wooden boat which was carried to the seashore to bless the start of sailing season.
In any event, Carnival is a celebration of the passage of time, the start of a new year, and the renewal of the individual and society thru drinking, dance, and music to begin the New Year afresh.
What is Mardi Gras?
Mardi Gras in French means "Fat Tuesday” and refers to the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, the end of the season of eating and drinking (after which you have gotten fat!), and the beginning of the Christian observation of Lent, a 40-day period of fasting (or giving up something in exchange for spiritual replenishment) leading up to Easter.
The start of the Carnival season traditionally begins on
January 6th (the Christian holiday of Three Kings Day), and ends with Mardi Gras, the night before the start of Lent. Since the date of Easter changes from year to year, the date of Mardi Gras also varies though some may choose their celebration to take place at an entirely different date
World Wide Celebration
Carnival is celebrated in more than 50 countries worldwide,
many with their own unique Carnival traditions and customs.
Here are some of the most famous ones.
Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro
Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro dates to 1723 and had its origin with Portuguese colonists who brought this tradition to Brazil. Over time, a blend of Portuguese and African music and dancing created what is today the world’s largest and most famous Carnival. It begins on the Friday preceding the week of Lent and ends on Ash Wednesday.
Festivities include grand parades (organized by samba schools) and “blocos” (street parties consisting of slow-moving vans with music and partygoers dancing in the streets). The huge Samba parades feature elaborate floats and costumes.
Mardi Gras in New Orleans
New Orleans is the Carnival capital of the United States. Celebrations begin on January 6th and end on Mardi Gras, and consist of grand balls and parades with elaborate floats sponsored by social clubs called Krewes, the wearing of beads, and decorating with the official Mardi Gras colors of purple, gold, and green.
New Orleans started celebrating Mardi Gras in the 1730s, and by the late 1830s, the tradition of street parades with carriages, horseback riders, gaslight torches ("flambeaux"), costumes, and masks had begun.
Carnevale in Venice
In Venice, Canevale starts a few weeks prior to Ash Wednesday. Each Carnevale has a designated overarching theme and is celebrated with many events including private galas, balls, boat parades along the Grand Canal, masks, and costume competitions.
Costumes are reminiscent of what was worn in the 18th century with gowns, capes, and the world-famous Venetian masks. The use of identity-concealing masks dates to the 13th century when it presumably allowed party goers to enjoy anonymity to celebrate, and for the “classes” to mix.
Mardi Gras in Sydney
In Sydney, the celebration combines LGBTQ pride with Mardi Gras style to create one of the largest LGBTQ events in the world with hundreds of thousands of celebrants. It commemorates the start of LGBTQ liberation in Australia in 1978 when a parade/protest organized to celebrate the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots resulted in numerous arrests over a series of weeks.
In 1981 the organizers decided to move the parade to Australian summer due to the cold weather, and with the addition of the post-parade party, the modern Sydney Mardi Gras was born.
Canival in Port of Spain, Trinidad/Tobago
Carnival in the Port of Spain consists of a two-day fetival and has inspired variations of the celebration across the West Indies and other nations (“Crop Over” in Barbados, the Labor Day Parade in Brooklyn, “Caribana” in Toronto, and Notting Hill Carnival in London).
The main events occur on the Monday and Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday when masqueraders and other revelers dance their way through the city.
The celebration combines Calypso music and the spirit of liberation. It includes parades organized by different themed social groups with booming soca music, and bright bikini-styled costumes with jewels, feathers, and beads.
Carnival at Union in Seattle
Union has chosen to celebrate Carnival with a combination of many traditions. The festivities start 1 week before Mardi Gras with the exact date varying each year.
The peak of Union Carnival is the Masquerade on the Saturday before Mardi Gras with costumes, masks, and beads in the combined styles of New Orleans, Rio, Venice, Sydney, and Port of Spain! The culmination of Union Carnival is on Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday.
Join in the fun of this new tradition at Union!