It's carnival time and millions of people go out in the streets to enjoy and indulge before Lent, which is a time of fasting and penitence for Catholics and lasts forty days, ending on Easter Sunday. Carnival goes on for several days before Ash Wednesday, and the last day is called Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday. The French call this day “Mardi Gras”, and that's how carnival is known in New Orleans, a city in the state of Louisiana, which was once a French territory in America.
Carnival is a very old celebration that dates back to pagan times, but was later introduced in the Christian calendar. In order to prepare for the fasting season, people had to use up all the food they had at home, especially butter, eggs and meat, and they would have big parties, giving rise to the carnival celebrations.
Today, carnivals are mainly celebrated in Catholic countries, being those of Rio de Janeiro, Venice and New Orleans the most famous worldwide.
“ Mardi Gras” actually refers to the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, and it's during this day that parades take place, with lots of floats where people, wearing costumes and masks, dance to the music and throw streamers and confetti. The floats and parades are planned by the “krewes”, which are clubs whose members work all the year round to have everything ready for the carnival. From the floats they throw beads, plastic doubloons and other stuff, and children and grown-ups alike strive to catch as many as possible. The most typical food is the king cake, which is adorned with the Mardi Gras' colours: green, gold and purple. It contains a little baby toy in it, and the person that gets it is the one that will have to buy the next king cake.
In New Orleans, Mardi Gras is really important and it's been going on for centuries, and not even the terrible hurricane Katrina deterred people from celebrating it.
In this presentation you can learn the basic vocabulary for carnival.
Watch the video about Mardi Gras and answer the questions.