7 Ways to Celebrate Mardi Gras Around the World
Depending on the country, Mardi Gras takes on many different forms, but it always involves a celebration. Here, take a look at the biggest and brightest festivities around the globe.
Also known as Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, or simply Carnival, today’s Mardi Gras holiday marks the last hurrah before the the Christian Lenten fasting period. Depending on the country, Mardi Gras takes on many different forms, but it always involves a parade and carnival replete with indulgent foods, zany costumes, and merriment. Here, a guide to the biggest and brightest Mardi Gras festivities around the globe.
Barranquilla, Colombia: 2/6–2/9
This coastal Latin American city takes its Carnaval, which begins on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday and finishes on Tuesday so seriously that the festivities even have their own slogan: “Who lives it, is who enjoys it.” Much of the carnival’s focus is on Colombia’s many traditional dances and costumes, especially the Marimonda: elephantine masks with long noses and large ears. Dishes like papas criollas (creamy fried potato balls), bollo de yucca (tamale-shaped buns made of yucca), and egg-filled corn cakes known as arepas are popular in Barranquilla and served during Carnaval.
Binche, Belgium: 2/7–2/9
Although there are Fat Tuesday celebrations throughout Belgium, the town of Binche boasts the country’s most famous, with the festivities dating back to the 14th century. Binche-born masked performers known as Gilles wear brightly colored outfits and wooden clogs, bounding through the streets with brooms while throwing oranges into the crowds to signify the coming of spring. The Gilles have a particularly decadent pre-festival ritual: a breakfast of oysters and champagne.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: 2/5–2/10
Considered the largest carnival in the world, this four day celebration is a jubilant and utterly captivating explosion of sounds, colors, and, of course, food. In the steamy Brazilian climate, the carnival snakes through Rio, with lots of costumed samba dancers, cachaça-laced cocktails, and street snacks. Hot grilled meats, flaky savory pastries called pasteles and aracaje (black bean fritters) are served during the daytime festival, but once evening hits, revelers can be found spooning up heaps of Brazilian classic feijoada—a stew of black beans and various meats.
In Germany, Karnival season officially begins on November 11th (11/11) at 11:11 AM. Starting on Weuberfastnacht, “Fat Thursday,” the week before Ash Wednesday, the nationwide celebrations ramp up, finally finishing on the night of Mardi Gras. Cologne boasts the country’s largest parade with over 1 million participants, many of whom dress in wizard, clown, and Napoleonic military costumes. Street vendors serve classic German snacks like hot pretzels, Bratwurst sausages, Krapfen (German donuts), and mulled wine, or Gluhwein.
Venice, Italy: 1/23–2/9
Known for the elaborate masks worn by attendees, Venice’s world renowned Carnevale first took place in the year 1162. Venetians celebrate the impending start of lent with very rich, indulgent dishes like meatball and sausage-filled Lasagna de Carnevale—the phrase Carnevale derives from the latin “Carne vale” or “farewell to meat.” Frittelle, fried dough topped with confectioners sugar, and cream-filled cannoli are also extremely popular.
Known as Fettisdagen, “fat Tuesday,” this holiday also has a number of other names in Swedish including fläktisdagen (pork Tuesday) and semmeldagen (semlor day), as Swedes eat cardamom scented buns stuffed with almond paste and whipped cream called semlor on this day.
New Orleans, USA: 2/9
Tourists flock to New Orleans to celebrate this Louisiana tradition, which dates from French Catholic influence in the early 1700s. Masked and costumed citizens parade through the city on impressive floats tossing throws (often plastic beads) into the crowds. Aniseed liqueur known as Ojen is widely consumed during the Mardi Gras period, as is Jambalaya, a classic Creole dish of rice, meat, and vegetables. King cake is the ultimate Mardi Gras dessert; a round cinnamon sugar-filled pastry topped with icing sugared in the holiday’s colors: Green, purple, and yellow. A small plastic baby signifying baby Jesus is often hidden inside the cake, and the finder of the baby is granted good luck.