My series on the “Journey to Easter…Symbols and Traditions” begins.
Mardi Gras or Carnival is celebrated a week or 10 days before the Christian season of Lent. Lent is celebrated for 40 days prior to Easter (approximately 6-1/2 weeks). Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, celebrated with a church service of repentance and marking the forehead with a cross made of ashes. Because Easter Sunday varies each year, so also does the date of Ash Wednesday vary.
Lent marks a season of repentance in which penitants give up rich foods and behave to show thier repentance for sins. On the Tuesday before Lent, the household was purged of dairy foods and any other rich, fatty foods. Thus Fat Tuesday, a day of feasting on the day before Ash Wednesday evolved as a way to use up all these foods. Similarly, the Mardi Gras or Carnival celebrations evolved as a last celebratory fling with wild behavior and overindulgence in rich food and drink. Carnival is generally celebrated for a week before Fat Tuesday, and in New Orleans, Mardi Gras is a bit longer, approximately 10 days prior to Fat Tuesday. However, traditions vary by country.
Mardi Gras is noted for costume balls, street parades and the distribution of coins, beads and other party favors. Participants are usually masked and often wear elaborate costumes. Bold colors are the norm with gold, purple and green the official colors.