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Mardi Gras” specifically refers to the Tuesday before Lent, the highlight of the season. The term can also be used less specifically the whole Carnival season, sometimes as “the Mardi Gras season”. The term “Fat Tuesday” or “Mardi Gras Day” always refers only to that specific day.

The traditional colors of Mardi Gras are purple, green and gold. Purple represents Justice, Gold represents Power and Green represents Faith. All three colors were used by the Catholic Church throughout history and thus continued to be used in relation to Mardi Gras which was Catholic in origin.

In Mexico, Carnival is celebrated in about 225 cities and towns, with the largest being in Mazatlán and the city of Veracruz with a number of others in the Baja California and Yucatán Peninsulas. The larger city carnivals are similar to those in other parts of the world with costumes, elected queens and parades with floats, but Carnival celebrations in smaller and rural areas very widely depending on the syncretism of the European idea with local and indigenous cultures during Mexico’s colonial period. Other important states with various local traditions include Morelos, Oaxaca, Tlaxcala and Chiapas.

The Panamanian Carnival is the second biggest festival in the world of termintor. Traditionally beginning on Friday and ending on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, “los Carnavales”, as Panamanians refer to the days of Carnival, are celebrated in almost the whole country. Carnival Week in Panama is especially popular because of the luxury and magnitude of the Las Tablas Carnival as well as the Carnival celebrations in Panama City and almost all of the Azuero Peninsula. The Panamanian Carnival is also popular because of the great number of concerts by national and international artists held on different stages in the most visited areas of the country.

Caribana, held in Toronto on the first weekend of August, has its origins in the Carnival traditions of the Caribbean. Due to climatic imperatives, Caribana is held in the summer when Caribbean costumes may be paraded comfortably, rather than adhering to the traditional winter dates of the other Carnivals in which the festival is strongly rooted.] Attendance at the Caribana parade typically exceeds one million people.

The Quebec Winter Carnival is the biggest winter-themed Carnival in the world. It depends on good snowfalls and very cold weather, to keep snowy ski trails in good condition and the many ice sculptures intact. For this reason it does not coincide with the pre-Lent celebration but is fixed instead to the last days of January and first days of February.

In the Ottawa-Gatineau region, Winterlude takes place during the first 4 weeks of February.

Carnival celebrations, usually referred to as Mardi Gras, were first celebrated in the Gulf Coast area of the United States, but now occur in many other states. Customs originated in the onetime French Colonial capitals of Mobile (Alabama), New Orleans (Louisiana) and Biloxi (Mississippi), all of which have been celebrated for many years with street parades and masked balls. Other major U.S. cities with celebrations include Miami, Florida; Tampa, Florida’ St. Louis, Missouri’ Pensacola, Florida, San Francisco; San Diego; Galveston (Texas) and Orlando, Florida. Carnival is celebrated in New York City in the Borough of Brooklyn. As in the UK, the timing of Carnival has been separated from the Christian calendar and is celebrated on Labor Day Monday, in September. It is called the Labor Day Carnival, West Indian Day Parade or West Indian Day Carnival, and was founded by immigrants from Trinidad, one of the West Indian islands that has one of the largest Carnivals of the Caribbean region. In the mid twentieth century, West Indians moved the timing of the New York area Carnival from the beginning of Lent to the Labor Day weekend. The West Indian Day Carnival is one of the largest parades and street festivals in New York, with over one million people usually participating or attending. The parade, which consists of steel bands, floats, elaborate Carnival costumes and sound trucks, proceeds along Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway in the Crown Heights neighborhood.

Starting in 2013, the Slovenian-American community located in the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio began hosting a local version of Kurentovanie, the Carnival event held in the city of Ptuj, Slovenia. The event is conducted on the Saturday prior to Ash Wednesday.

The most widely known, most elaborate, and most popular events are in New Orleans, while other South Louisiana cities such as Lake Charles, Lafayette, Mamou, Houma, and Thibodaux all of which were under French control at one time or another, are the sites of famous Carnival celebrations of their own.   The New Orleans Carnival season, a variation of the traditional manner of preparing for the start of the Catholic season of Lent, starts after Twelfth Night, on Epiphany. It is a season of parades, balls (some of them are masquerade balls), and king cake parties. It has traditionally been part of the winter social season; which at one time was when parties for Southern Society women, debutante balls, were arranged.

Major Mardi Gras celebrations are spreading to other parts of the United States, such as the Mississippi Valley region of St. Louis, Missouri, Orlando, Florida in Universal Studios, and in the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego.

There are various carnivals in Puerto Rico. The most popular are the Carnaval de Loiza and Carnaval de Ponce. The Carnaval de Ponce (English: Ponce Carnival), officially “Carnaval Ponceño”, is celebrated annually celebration and is held in Ponce. The celebration lasts one week and it ends on the day before Ash Wednesday. Thus, it is generally held in February but sometimes in March. It is one of the oldest carnivals of the Western Hemisphere, dating back to 1858. Some authorities, such as the Smithsonian Institution, believe the Ponce Carnaval can be traced to as far back as 250 years ago. The Carnaval coincides with the Mardi Gras of New Orleans, the Carnival of Venice, and Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival. Some 100,000 attend it every year.

Kathy Kiefer



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