Lent Around the World (2) – Mardi Gras & Carnival
Easter (April 8, 2012) is coming very soon. This week from March 26 to March 31 we will look into different Lenten Practices Around the World. Today we will learn about Mardi Gras and Carnival.
|The Spirit of Mardi Gras
Carnival quilt fabrics by Robert Kaufman
Origins of Mardi Gras
According to historians, Mardi Gras dates back thousands of years to pagan celebrations of spring and fertility, including the raucous Roman festivals of Saturnalia and Lupercalia. When Christianity arrived in Rome, religious leaders decided to incorporate these popular local traditions into the new faith, an easier task than abolishing them altogether. As a result, the excess and debauchery of the Mardi Gras season became a prelude to Lent, the 40 days of penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Along with Christianity, Mardi Gras spread from Rome to other European countries, including France, Germany, Spain and England.
Traditionally, in the days leading up to Lent, merrymakers would binge on all the meat, eggs, milk and cheese that remained in their homes, preparing for several weeks of eating only fish and fasting. In France, the day before Ash Wednesday came to be known as Mardi Gras which literally means “Fat Tuesday”. Its origin is believed to have come from the ancient Pagan custom of parading a fat ox through the town streets. Such Pagan holidays were filled with excessive eating, drinking and general bawdiness prior to a period of fasting. The word “carnival”, another common name for the pre-Lenten festivities, may also derive from this vegetarian-unfriendly custom: in Medieval Latin, carnelevarium means “to take away or remove meat”.
Mardi Gras Around the World
Across the globe, pre-Lenten festivals continue to take place in many countries with significant Roman Catholic populations. Brazil’s weeklong Carnival festivities feature a vibrant amalgam of European, African and native traditions. In Canada, Quebec City hosts the giant Quebec Winter Carnival. In Italy, tourists flock to Venice’s Carnevale, which dates back to the 13th century and is famous for its masquerade balls. Known as Karneval, Fastnacht or Fasching, the German celebration includes parades, costume balls and a tradition that empowers women to cut off men’s ties. For Denmark’s Fastevlan, children dress up and gather candy in a similar manner to Halloween–although the parallel ends when they ritually flog their parents on Easter Sunday morning.
Learn more about Mardi Gras celebrations across the globe
|Image source: Holly Crowe Photo by Roland Weihrauch
Learn more about Fasching in Germany
and other German-Speaking Countries