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Mardi Gras and Carnevale: One Last Hurrah

All over the world, Christians are preparing for the season of Lent, but not without a big party first. The name and specific activities of the festival differ based on geographical location; in Italy it’s Carnevale and in France and the U.S. it’s Mardi Gras, but the implications are the same.


On Meredith’s own campus, Tavola Italiana, the Italian club, held a Carnevale celebration event on Feb. 21. The festivities included Italian music, both traditional and modern, snacks and mask-making. In Italy, Carnevale celebrations start about two weeks before the actual day. Events and entertainment are held nightly in Venice, with people in costumes wandering around the city and partying well into the night. In Northern Italy, the town of Viareggio is known worldwide for its elaborate Carnevale floats. Each year, Viareggio tries to outdo itself with a month of extraordinary animated floats that become more intricate and outlandish with every iteration. Followed by masked all-night street parties, the Carnevale parades feature giant papier-mache caricatures of current political and cultural figures—in recent years American pop culture figures have been prominent—as well as figures from folklore. The tradition is so serious that the people of Viareggio will begin to plan next year’s floats the day after this year’s festivities end.


Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday,” comes from Medieval Europe. Mardi Gras started as a kick-off to Lent, a last hurrah before 40 days of penance and fasting that occurs between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. During early Mardi Gras celebrations, masks were worn as a way to escape the class constraints of the time. The tradition of bead throwing started with a mock king during the first Mardi Gras held in 1872. The original color of the beads, purple, gold and green, were royal colors, each holding special meaning: purple for justice, gold for power and green for faith. At the first carnival, the beads were glass, but over time they have become plastic so as to better suit the throwing tradition. In modern times in the American city of New Orleans, over 1.2 million people attend Mardi Gras every year, which is approximately 3.5 times the entire population of New Orleans. The city of New Orleans spends $3.33 million on Mardi Gras each year; hotels in the surrounding area make $56 million during the span of the festivities.


No matter where Mardi Gras or Carnevale is celebrated, it is always assured to be a fun and colorful event with memories that will last a lifetime.


By Rachel Van Horne, Staff Writer

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