Do you suddenly have a craving to stuff mass amounts of gluttonous foods in your mouth and parade up and down the streets? Could just be a normal weekday, or it could be the lure of Mardi Gras calling your name. Fat Tuesday, or Shrove Tuesday, falls on the day before Ash Wednesday every year, marking the last hurrah before the six weeks of Lent leading up to Easter.
As such, cities around the world go nuts. Lent is supposed to be a time of penance and welcoming the entrance of spring in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, so in the days leading up to it, everyone throws a party. You probably know about New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro’s celebrations, full of vibrant colors and festive music, but there are variations of how we commemorate around the world.
Shrove Tuesday is considered the culmination of Carnival pretty much no matter where you are. It’s a day of self-reflection and utter jubilation, a time to get all vice out of your system before you settle down and recognize the somber period of Lent. It’s no accident that it’s also called Pancake Day (though IHOP won’t give away a free stack until next week) -- there are tons of pancakes and pancake-ish foods gorged on today.
In New Orleans, they’re eating king cakes -- we know that. In Sweden, everyone will make sure to get their hands on a semla (a cream-filled doughnut-esque concoction), and the Portuguese will spend the day baking and eating malasadas, a type of fried dough. The idea is to use up all your sugar on Shrove Tuesday so that it won’t tempt you during Lent. (Disclaimer: That lasts about a day for this Portuguese girl.)
But besides specifically going after sugar for Fat Tuesday, cities everywhere find other ways to get, well, fat. At Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro, their pasteles and aracaje are served alongside traditional feijoada, and don’t forget the cachaça-filled cocktails -- they’re deadly.
In Colombia, the focus is on starch and carbs -- my kind of party. You’ll find papas criollas (fried potato balls), bollo de yucca (yucca buns) and arepas, a classic cheesy street food.
Venice, Italy gets symbolic. Even though lasagna is kind of an Americanized dish, the Lasagna de Carnevale gets passed out by the sheet pans. “Carnevale,” here, is translated to mean “farewell to meat,” as part of the tradition of Lent is to abstain from meat. The Italians don’t disappoint though -- they also make frittelle and cannoli for their Carnavale (which dates back to 1162). Venice's costumes, meanwhile, include the Bauta mask, a full face piece that was meant to allow the lower class and aristocracy to be on a temporary equal playing field -- and must be a pain when it comes to stuffing your face.
While anyone can celebrate Carnival with any old parade, that’s not what you’re getting in places like Belgium and Bolivia.
The Belgian “Les Gilles” dress up in costumes and masks and toss oranges into crowds -- it’s considered a sacrificial offering, and they take it very seriously after a breakfast of oysters and champagne.
Oranges are a Mardi Gras theme, apparently. Italians in Ivrea embark on the Battle of the Oranges, a 10,000-person event that ends with everyone complimenting each other.
In Bolivia, the metaphors run deep. In a parade called the Diabladas, attendees will dress up in devil horns and masks complete with red cloaks to signify Lucifer. A theological play about the seven deadly sins is put on, and specific dances are performed as the parade weaves throughout the cities.
Nice, France's festival is...nice, for lack of a better term. Their parade is full of floats made mainly from flowers, and the Flower Battle takes over the streets with decorated carriages and bouquet exchanging. It's not so much a battle -- more of a lovely tradition.
Cologne, Germany claims one of the biggest parades, with about a million revelers in costumes prancing around the streets.
Basically, whichever way you slice it, Mardi Gras is the party of the year. Need a drink?