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What is Mardi Gras? Mardi Gras is French for "Fat Tuesday". The name comes from the ancient custom of parading a fat ox through Paris on this day. The ox was to remind the people that they were not allowed to eat meat during Lent. Lent runs from Ash Wednesday through to Easter Sunday. Mardi Gras moves. It can be anywhere between February 3rd and March 9th. The date depends on when Easter falls. French people who came to the United States brought the custom of Mardi Gras with them. The most famous festival in the US (and perhaps the world) is at New Orleans in Louisiana. But Mardi Gras parades happen throughout the world. Biloxi in Mississipi, Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, Nice in France, Binche in Belgiun and Viareggio in Italy are just a few examples. The Tuesday that Mardi Gras falls on is also known as Shrove Tuesday. The name comes from the custom of confessing on the day before lent. Shrove means "to be forgiven one's sins." Mardi Gras Customs: In Southern Italy, people dress up in costumes and put on an ancient play during Mardi Gras In Rio de Janeiro, people dance in the streets. In Nice, France people wear giant masks in the Mardi Gras parade (it looks like a bunch of walking heads with tiny bodies). In Binche, Belgium people dress in colourful clown costumes (the clowns are called gilles)The clowns wear bunches of ostrich feathers on their heads and dance in the streets. They carry baskets of oranges which they throw to the watching crowds. For most of you, Mardi Gras customs are likely of the New Orleans variety. During the parade, everyone dresses up in costumes. Trinkets, especially beads and doubloons, are tossed to the crowds from the parade floats. The Mardi Gras colours are purple, green and gold. Parades, Pancakes, parties and boisterous fun under the lively carnival colours are what the galas made of. Mask is also a key ingredient of the celebration. Over the years, with its growth in size, reach and variety, the festival has registered greater national attention. And, from only a limited few, many hosts came in soon to add to its hue and flavour to the parades. The schedule: Fat Tuesday is always 47 days before Easter Sunday. This can fall anywhere in- between February 3 and March 9, it all depends on the Catholic Church. Though formally it is scheduled to start with the day of Epiphany, the main season of celebration begins about two weeks before Fat Tuesday. On those two weeks, people view the parades and go to the nightly parties. The grand finale of all events takes place on the Shrove Tuesday, the Tuesday before the Ash Wednesday, or, before the period of Lent. Originally the day was meant for pre-Lenten shriving through confession of sins, a Catholic practice. Now pancakes, parades, parties, feasts and dance - all form part of the Mardi Gras galas. The colours: The official colours for Mardi Gras are purple, green, and gold. These colours where chosen in 1872 by the King of Carnival, Rex. He chose these colours to stand for the following: Purple represents justice Green stands for faith Gold stands for power Masks: Be it the marching of masked revellers, fancy balls or the masked dances, or the theme parties, masks play a prominent role among the traditions of this day. Masks came to be associated with Mardi Gras as a part of the universal tradition for the New Year festivity. According to scholars the masks are used to represent the dead who were wont to return to their homes at this time of changeover. Parades: It all began in New Orleans, Louisiana due to its inherent French connection. As is witnessed in many cities and small towns across the United Sates, the masked revellers merely marched through the city of New Orleans on the day of Mardi Gras. In 1857, the first night parade with some grotesque figures made its way to the residence of the city's mayor. It was performed by the Mystick Krewe of Comus. Then in 1872 the Rex Association, with its monarch Rex as the king of the Carnival, came into being with the idea of a spectacular parade show. Floats, bands, colourful marchers, masked knights and monsters came to be associated with the parade. Today there are over 60 organizations which come out with their own parades in New Orleans alone. Pancakes: While the New Orleans tradition is spilled in other parts of the South with parades of masked marchers, floats, and throw ups, many have developed their own style of celebrating the Mardi Gras. For instance, in Pennsylvania, people of German origin, celebrate this day as Fastnacht. So called because they make pancakes of rectangular shaped doughnuts, known as fastnachts. Eating this was believed to bring good luck, while the failure to eat could bring harm through different ways. Also the fat in which the doughnuts were fried was used to grease the wheels of wagons in the belief that it stopped the destruction caused by rats, mice and insects. Fastnacht lard was rubbed on the sore udders of cows. It was virtually applied to any wounds. The Germans also regard it as a no work day and associate some taboos with the day. They believe, if you sew on the day, the chickens would lay no eggs. In rural communities, pupils used to lock the teachers out of their classrooms and allowed them in only when they promised to give the youngsters a holiday. Pancake: The British traditions associated with Shrove Tuesday are also seen. As in England, pancake suppers are held by many Episcopal churches on the eve of Lent. Originally the practice was a means of using up the milk, eggs, and fat which were not allowed to be eaten during the strict days of Lent. Yet another English tradition came to be introduced in America, though lately. This is the pancake bell run for women. Believed to be originated in Olney around 1445, the legend has it that one woman was making her pancakes when the bell calling the people to confession on Shrove Tuesday, rang. With this the woman ran out grabbing the frying pan and cooking the pancakes as she went. Soon there developed, among the town's women above 18 years, an annual race to the church where women in apron, scarf and hat, keep flipping the griddlecakes all along the course. The race is still held in Olney, from the pump to the market square, a distance of 415 yards. The tradition made its way in America in 1950 when the women of Liberal, Kansas, entered the race in the form of a challenge to the women of Olney. The challenge was to have the race run separately in the respective countries. The racing times were to be compared by transatlantic telephone to determine the winner. The race has been held every year since then and has grown to some proportion. In Liberal there are four days of festivities. While the race is just for fun, prizes, including the traditional 'kiss of peace', a prayer book and a frying pan await the winner.
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