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Mardi Gras is the annual celebration known for its flamboyant colour, fantastic food and over-the-top celebration, but did you know it literally translates from the French as ‘Fat Tuesday’?

So named for the traditional practice of indulging in fatty foods before the ritual fasting season which kicks off on Ash Wednesday, this celebration has its roots in French Catholicism and is celebrated around the world in a variety of ways, each with their own peculiarities and homespun traditions.

In Belgium, Mardi Gras is celebrated with 1000 gilles (traditional dancers wearing wax masks) who cavort across the city throughout the day. In Germany, where the celebration is known as Karneval, parades and festivities take place across the country in cities from Cologne to Berlin. In Sweden, where it is known as Fettisdagen, the celebrations are shaped around the eating of semla, a sweet dessert roll, marking their last indulgence before the fasting period for Lent commences. In Italy, Mardi Gras, or Martedí Grasso as it is known, holds its biggest celebrations in the cities of Venice, Viareggio and Ivrea. Similarly, in the Netherlands, where the celebrations are known as Carnaval – which comes from ‘carnevale’, or ‘goodbye to the meat’ in Latin – a period of indulgence and partying ushers in the fasting that, in time-honoured tradition, is to come.

To many people though, Mardi Gras means one thing, or more specifically, one place in particular. In the United States, especially in cities of ethnic French origin, Mardi Gras is celebrated with gusto, passion and music, food and dance, and no more so than in the capital of Louisiana, New Orleans.

The Big Easy, as it is colloquially known, sees thousands of people descend on the town for the two week period of partying, celebrations and decadence that marks this annual event. It truly is one to be seen – and experienced – to be believed.


Festival Guide: Mardi Gras
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