Halsbury Travel

Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras and Lent


Today is Shrove Tuesday, a day in which many people around the world prepare for Lent, which starts tomorrow. Traditionally a period during which people would fast, Lent was a sober time when people made a particular effort to be pious and repent for their sins. 

On Shrove Tuesday, otherwise known as Mardi Gras or ‘Fat Tuesday’, people would eat up all the rich foods in their cupboards, such as meat, dairy, fat and sugar, in preparation for a much leaner diet over the next 40 days and nights. Here in the UK, we still eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday and in many other European countries, people also enjoy sugary, fatty treats at this time of year. Particularly famous are the bugnes of France and the chiacchiere of Italy, both of which are made of fried dough. In some countries, carnivals are also held during the period preceding Lent. 

Whilst Shrove Tuesday is observed by many Christian groups, Carnival tends to be celebrated by areas in which Roman Catholicism has historically been dominant, such as France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and some areas of Germany. There is much debate over the origins of the word ‘carnival’, but it has been suggested that it refers to the exclusion of meat from people’s diets during the period of Lent. Carnival has historically been a time for entertainment and parties, with many celebrations actually reflecting pre-Christian traditions, such as the Roman festival of Saturnalia. 

Most carnivals involve extravagantly-decorated floats, which are paraded through the city accompanied by musicians and dancers, creating a real party atmosphere. But many also have particular customs, such as the famous Venetian masks or Nice’s Flower Parades. 

For many, the highlight of Carnival season is Shrove Tuesday, but in Germany the day before, Rosenmontag, takes centre stage. The Rhineland is where you will find most Karneval celebrations and in cities such as Cologne and Düsseldorf you can expect to see huge floats poking fun at politicians and other public figures, as well as current events. This year has seen an abundance of floats based on events in the Ukraine and the terrorist attacks in Paris earlier this year. 

Carnival Vocabulary – French, German, Italian and Spanish

   French  German  Italian  Spanish
Float  Le Char  Der Festwagen  Il carro allegorico   La carroza 
Mask  Le Masque  Die Karnevalmaske   Il maschera   La máscara
Carnival Costume  Le déguisement  Das Kostüm  Il costume  El disfraz
Shrove Tuesday  Mardi Gras  Der Fastnachtdienstag  Martedí Grasso  Martes de carnaval
Lent  Le Carême  Die Fastenzeit  La quaresima  La Cuaresma
Parade  Le défilé du carnaval  Der Karnevalsumzug  La sfilata di carnevale  El desfile de Carneval
Carnival  Le carnaval  Der Karneval/ Fasnacht  Il carnevale  El Carnaval


Have you experienced the celebrations in another country? What did you most enjoy about the experience? What did you learn about the culture? Leave us a comment below!

Taking your group to visit a country during special celebrations such as Carnival allows them a unique insight into the culture and provides them with many opportunities to practise speaking the language with locals - our Christmas Market tours are always popular amongst our groups for this very reason. Contact us now to find out how one of our tailor-made school tours can introduce your students to a new culture and inspire a love of the language that will remain with them. 


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