At the time of annual samba carnival in Rio de Janeiro, there is Mardi Gras throughout the whole world. It is a traditional carnival celebration, which is held on Tuesday, after which the Lent begins. The tradition of Mardi Gras occurrence is pagan farewell to winter and meeting spring. It extends in the world. However, the carnival first occurred in France. The customs of antiquity, the current way of life and especially the local dialect of the French language have an effect on Mardi Gras. Nowadays, Mardi Gras is celebrated in many countries such as Czech Republic, Belgium, France, Norway, Germany, Australia, Ecuador, as well as in the United States. Everywhere this spring carnival is inextricably linked with culture and rich folklore of France.
Mardi Gras originates from pre-Christian times, when people worshiped pagan gods. Thus, there was a very popular ritual of the farewell to winter and spring meetings among the Gentiles. During the holiday, there were mass celebrations with dancing and fun. At the end of the celebration, the king and queen of the holiday were elected, and a doll totem was burned. After adoption of the Christian faith, many pagan festivals and rituals have consigned into oblivion. However, some of them were transformed into Christian holidays. “Every year the date of Mardi Gras is different. But it is always forty-six days before Easter” (MacMillan, 2008, p. 11).
In ancient times, people spent more than one day to prepare for the celebration of Mardi Gras. Several weeks before the holiday, a hostess collected a large number of delicious dishes for a “Fat Tuesday” (translation of Mardi Gras) to represent them on the table. In addition, “Fat Tuesday” began with appetizing smells wafting from the kitchen, where mistresses fragrant pancakes were baked. An interesting fact is that the ancestors celebrated Mardi Gras only one day, and the celebrations ended before midnight.
There is a legend that Mardi Gras should finish exactly before midnight, before Wednesday. It is connected with beautiful Rose and her lover Gabriel. According to the legend, gorgeous Rose Latyulippe lived in a village. Once, she went with her lover to Mardi Gras. However, Rose was a beautiful girl, and many local young men were in love with her. It is not surprising that some of them hated Gabriel. When dances started, a merry company of men banished Gabriel. However, offended Gabrielle did not leave the festival. He hid around the corner and watched Rose. At that moment, Gabriel’s heart was filled with jealousy and anger.
Exactly an hour before midnight, a stranger appeared on the dance floor. He grabbed Rose from the crowd of fans and started to dance. They circled in the dance and Gabriel felt extremely resentment and hurt. He ran into a dark alley and was stunned. In the darkness, there appeared stranger’s companion. He was as black as pitch. He released steam from nostrils and flashed with hooves. It was the devil, and the stranger was Satan. He knew that if he could keep beautiful Rose until midnight, her soul would belong to him forever. Rose continued dancing with the stranger, without noticing that the time was passing. The clock was slowly approaching midnight. The stranger anticipated his triumph. However, Satan’s insidious plans failed. A few seconds before midnight, Gabriel released Rose from clutches of the stranger. Since then, Mardi Gras is celebrated on Tuesday morning and all festivities are finished before Wednesday.
However, it is not the only legend associated with this cheerful and bright holiday. According to another legend, a son of Emperor Alexander II was in love with American actress Lydia Thompson. He followed her to New Orleans the day before Mardi Gras. When organizers of the festival understood that a scion of the royal dynasty would be present at the carnival, they decided to make an extra festive platform, on which an inscription “Rex” was installed. It meant a “king”. Therefore, a Russian prince became the king of the festival. From that time, Mardi Gras has a king and a queen, who rise on a huge platform decorated with the retinue. They throw pewter coins and plastic beads into the crowd (Shafto, 2009).
To date, Mardi Gras is the brightest and funniest holiday in Australia, Germany, Norway, the United States, and Ecuador. Throughout the world, Mardi Gras is a symbol of fun. However, in Sydney, this holiday is also a symbol of struggle for the rights of sexual minorities, where during the celebration of Mardi Gras, the most famous gay parade is organized. A peculiarity of Australian Mardi Gras is a gay parade along the streets of Sydney. “The growth of Mardi Gras as a popular cultural event has mirrored an increasing Australian acceptance of gays and lesbians” (Haggerty, 2013, p. 858). All participants are dressed in bright and unusual costumes. A highlight of the festival represent dancers in exotic costumes, and the parodists portraying the world’s political leaders.
Peculiar Mardi Gras in Germany
In Germany, Mardi Gras is also connected with fun. The most interesting is that the preparations for the February holiday begin in November on a certain day and strictly at the certain time. November 11, at 11 minutes past 11, there is the first preparatory meeting. Magnificent celebrations are held in Cologne and Munich. The holiday is divided into several stages. The first one is the beginning, called Weiberfastnacht. It is on Thursday, which precedes the “Fat Tuesday”. This day is a holiday for women only that dress as witches and she-devils cheering people.
The culmination of the festival is called Rosenmontag, which lies in the fact that on Monday, there is a bright carnival procession on the main street of the city. There is an orchestra, dancers in colorful costumes, fairy princesses and monsters. The procession ends at the central square, where the concerts with fireworks are organized. On Tuesday, there is the Children’s Day, when all children are dressed in unusual or fabulous costumes. After school, children return home, where they are waiting for gifts and sweets. A logical conclusion of Mardi Gras in Germany is Ash Wednesday. On Thursday, a strict fast begins, which lasts 40 days.
Mardi Gras in the USA
American Mardi Gras is not only a bright carnival procession, universal joy and unbridled festivities. It is also the world’s most famous jazz parade, when the central streets of the city are crowded with jazz bands that play well-known compositions and their interpretations for the amusement of the audience. However, the apogee of the holiday is Carnival in New Orleans, which attracts thousands of participants and tourists wishing to see and participate in festivities.
Initially, Mardi Gras was a costume show on the occasion of the spring meeting in the French districts of New Orleans. The tradition of Mardi Gras brought to Louisiana the first French settlers. The earliest reference dates back to 1699. The holiday was adopted, despite the fact that its fate in the USA was not easy. In different years, marches were banned. “In New Orleans, Mardi Gras violence had become so common that it was almost an integral part of the holiday” (Mitchell, 2009, p. 40). At some point, spontaneous celebration moved into the category of organized activities and did not pose a threat to the public order. Over the years, the carnival became more crowded. There were bright colored platforms driven by the horses. Nowadays, Mardi Gras in New Orleans is famous in the whole world as one of the largest and most colorful carnivals. “Mardi Gras is the most important date on the city’s calendar” (Tallan 2000, p. 8). The holiday lasts for about two weeks, during which minimum one costume parade with musicians and carts with figures passes every day. In addition, there are costume balls and a great variety of noisy parties in the city. Therefore, a huge number of young people arrive in New Orleans from all over the country. It ends on Tuesday on a Mardi Gras day.
All parades are very colorful. There is an elegant procession along the streets, and its members throw various souvenirs into the exultant crowd. In a number of many parades of Mardi Gras, the Bacchus parade is extremely highlighted. It is celebrated on Sunday before “Fat Tuesday”. Each platform of this indescribable procession is dedicated to some unbridled and vicious entertainment such as drinking, women, dates, and cards. The so-called Indian parade is also very interesting. It is a tribute to Indians, who helped African Americans during the time of slavery. Earlier, an Indian parade was an event with a dubious reputation since Indians belonging to the warring groups often used the time of carnival turmoil for fights. Nowadays, it is a friendly confrontation at the level of costumes. Leaders of “tribes” try to suppress rivals with splendor and brilliance of carnival costumes.
Mardi Gras is one of the Catholic holidays. It is held 40 days before Easter. Since the date of the holiday changes every year, the date of Mardi Gras changes accordingly. The holiday precedes the Lent. On this day, people eat particularly fatty and rich food. Therefore, they can start the Lent with a clear conscience. Mardi Gras is not a specific day, but a whole series of events, which depend on the country as well as the city and can last a week or even more.