What is the origin of Mardi Gras?
Mardi Gras is mistakenly thought to be a Christian holiday. It is true, we will come back to this, but it is first and foremost a pagan festival. In Roman antiquity, this day celebrated the end of winter and the arrival of spring. But today, it is above all an opportunity for young and old to dress up but also to eat donuts, pancakes or waffles!
When is Mardi Gras celebrated?
In Christian tradition, Shrove Tuesday marks the start of Lent. Period of 40 days during which Christians eat “lean”. Shrove Tuesday therefore precedes Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Easter period. In 2023, Shrove Tuesday falls on February 21 – 19 days after Candlemas – Ash Wednesday on February 22 and Easter on April 9.
The origins of Mardi Gras: a story of Lent!
According to the Roman lunar calendar, March marked the beginning of the year and this period was the occasion of unbridled parties during which one dressed up and ate more than reason, celebrating the renewal of nature on the occasion of the Calends of March.
Preceding Lent in the Christian tradition, this day was an opportunity for Christians to empty their reserves and eat anything they would be deprived of for several weeks. But what do carnival and disguises have to do with this story?
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Why do we dress up to celebrate carnival during Shrove Tuesday?
The word carnival comes from the Latin “carnelevare” which means “to remove the meat”, and therefore “to enter Lent”. Mardi Gras is the high point of these few days during which everything is permitted. We dress up, we hide our face behind a mask, and we free ourselves from social constraints and propriety. If Venice and Italy are the birthplace of carnivals as we know them, the first mention of a carnival in the city of the Doges of 1094 in an edict of the first doge of the city Vitale Falier, other European cities have very popular carnivals: Nice and its floats adorned with flowers, Dunkirk but also its herring thrown to the crowd.
What do we eat on Mardi Gras?
What would Mardi Gras be without its procession of sweet and high-calorie recipes? In addition to pancakes and waffles, Shrove Tuesday is also an opportunity to eat carnival donuts. But beware, each French region has its own specificity in this area!
In the south-west, they are called marvels, delicious donuts flavored with orange blossom. On the Lyon side, they are called bugnes, in Savoie rissoles. Crunchy, soft, flavored with rum or vanilla, sprinkled with sugar or even drizzled with chocolate, carnival donuts are a delight for young and old.
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Why do we eat donuts on Shrove Tuesday?
Donuts, bugnes, rissoles… whatever their name, on Mardi Gras day, they are eagerly awaited! But where does this culinary tradition come from which, each year, comes to delight our taste buds?
A bit like for the pancakes at Candlemas, originally it was a question of not wasting. In order not to have to throw away the reserves of eggs and butter which would inevitably be unused during the Lenten period, the idea of cooking them therefore naturally imposed itself. A gourmet way to avoid wasting, in short!
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