Mardis Gras, meaning Fat Tuesday in French, marks the end of Carnival season and is the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of the 40 days of Lent. Mardis Gras is recognised throughout the world but each nation has their own title for this day. In the U.K. it is known as Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day, German speaking countries name it Fastnacht, in Sweden- Fettisdagen and in Italy- Martedí Grasso . It gets it’s name from the fact that all the good food that was given up for Lent had to be used up and so eggs, butter and flour was used to make pancakes or cakes and on Ash Wednesday the fasting would begin.
In many countries, especially Catholic countries, carnival season begins at Epiphany and finishes with a flourish of Carnivals and street parades on the day before lent. In Germany, Austria and Switzerland carnival street parades are held in abundance from the previous Thursday through to the Mardis Gras carnival on the Tuesday. In Germany the main day for carnival is Rosenmontag ( Rose Monday) and in many regions is a public holiday. Cologne is famous for its huge carnival parade with floats and carnival masked people throwing sweets and small bottles of Cologne water out into the crowds. In southern Germany, Switzerland and Vorarlberg, Austria this is also a time for celebrating the end of the reign of the spirits of winter. In English the word “shrove” comes from shriven which means to confess one’s sins. In England and Ireland the week before Ash Wednesday is traditionally known as “shrovetide” .
Carnival is an important celebration in Anglican and Catholic European nations and in many countries the celebrations last for 3-5 days before Lent. Carnival involves dressing up in wonderful costumes and masks, street parades and music, dancing, eating and plenty of drinking. The largest Mardis Gras carnival is held in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil where there are approximately two million people celebrating in the city. Italy, too is famous for it’s carnivals and is the birthplace of
carnival celebrations. The most famous Carnivals in Italy are in Venice and in Viareggio, and the beautiful and elaborate masks can be seen for sale all over Italy.The Carnival in Venice was first recorded in 1268 and the masks worn in the Venice Carnival are famous for their workmanship. The month-long Carnival of Viareggio is one of the most renowned in Europe . In Greece carnival time signifies “a goodbye to meat” and the week before Lent is known as “Cheese week”, no meat is eaten but cheese is. After cheese week comes “Clean Monday” which signals the beginning of the great lent period in Greece. Carnival in Portugal is celebrated throughout the country, most famously in Ovar, Sesimbra, Madeira, Loulé, Nazaré, and Torres Vedras. Although Portugal introduced Christianity and the customs related to Catholic practice to Brazil, the country has begun to adopt some aspects of Brazilian-style Carnival celebrations, in particular those of Rio de Janeiro with sumptuous parades, samba and other Brazilian musical elements.
Most countries of the world celebrate Mardis Gras in their own way but a common theme that runs through them all is the using up of all the rich foods before the fasting of Lent and of people coming together to have a good time. The date of Mardis Gras is linked to Easter so is a moveable celebration.