The countdown to Lent is on in much of the world.
In the US, New Orleans is the epicenter of the American Carnival. The folks in Mobile, Alabama will be quick to tell you that their Carnival was indeed the first of its kind on US soil. In fact Mobile’s Carnival, born in 1703, is older than the USA and 15 years older than the city of New Orleans. Like New Orleans’ Carnival it was started by French Catholics as a festival leading up to the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday. The celebration’s climatic moment comes on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, which has earned the moniker Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras to the French speaking world.
Of course, the Carnival season is not exclusive to Mobile or New Orleans. It’s a time of celebration and reflection around the globe.
Carnival (Mardi Gras) Around the World
Brazil – is home to many Carnival celebrations most notably in the cities of Recife, Rio de Janeiro, and Salvador. The parades and colors seen here are not too far flung from what is seen in New Orleans with the notable addition of samba! Celebrate like the Brazilians with Cachaça.
Canada – Our neighbors to the north celebrate Carnival much as they do in the USA with the greatest party happening in French-speaking Quebec City.
Colombia – is best known for their Barranquilla’s Carnava that starts the Saturday before Ash Wednesday. It is considered to be South America’s second largest Carnival. It is a party that is greatly dedicated to celebrating the many unique cultures within Colombia.
Denmark – celebrates Fastelavn. This Carnival style holiday was created by Catholics and is observed today in deeply protestant Denmark. It begins seven weeks before Easter Sunday.
France – The greatest Carnival and Mardi Gras celebrations in France take place in the southern city of Nice. The Nice Carnival dates back the 13th century.
Germany – celebrates Fastnacht (the eve before fasting) on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Parades are common and the evening’s festivities are centered on meat and alcohol, two items traditionally given-up during Lent. Enjoy your German pre-Lent with a great Bock.
Ireland & The British Isles – celebrate Shrovetide, the week leading up to Ash Wednesday. Shrovetide is a period of obtaining absolution of one’s sins via confession and penance. The period ends on Shrove Tuesday, which is better known simply as Pancake Tuesday in recognition of the traditional delicacy of choice. Pancakes, similar to what Americans would call crêpes, are typically topped with sugar and fresh lemon juice, rolled and eaten. Wash it down with a cool Stout.
Italy – celebrates Carnival with masked balls, parades, fireworks, and outdoor festivals that can start weeks before Ash Wednesday. Venice is surely the capital of Italian Carnival activities. The Carnival of Venice (or Carnevale di Venezia in Italian) dates back to 1268. In Venice masks are a traditional part of the festivities that begin on St. Stephen’s Day. Carnival halted during the reign of Mussolini (Fascists so often lack a sense of humor) in the 1930s and 40s. True Carnival did not make a full return until the 1980s and has been going strong ever since.
Poland – has their own version of Carnival, which can be seen in US cities with large Polish populations as well. Poles celebrate the Thursday before Ash Wednesday calling it Fat Thursday (Tlusty Czwartek) that is most often marked by the eating of paczki, a sweet and fatty doughnut. Pronounced “poonchky”, these treats are often filled with raspberry, custard, prune, and apple. On Fat Tuesday the traditional meal is herring with potatoes. Polish Vodka anyone?
Sweden – celebrates Fettisdagen (Fat Tuesday) with the eating of a traditional bun called “semla.” The day is sometimes called White Tuesday as the buns are made from white flour and sprinkled with powdered sugar.