Mardi Gras: From Its Pagan Roots to Crêpes and Beignets


Originally a pagan celebration during Roman times (‘les Calendes de mars’), Mardi Gras (lit. Fat Tuesday) is a Christian holiday preceding the mercredi des Cendres (Ash Wednesday). This year, Mardi Gras falls on February 28th. It announces the beginning of Carême (Lent) and 40 days of prayer and meat abstinence, until Easter. Mardi Gras is thus the climax of the end of la semaine des sept jours gras (week of seven fat days fat), formerly called jours charnels (carnal days).

While its religious origins are somewhat forgotten today, Mardi Gras continues to be a grandiose occasion for ambience (f.) festive (festive ambiance), joie (f.) et bonne humeur (f.) (joy and good mood) and défiler (to parade) and déambuler dans  les rues (meander in the streets) during the carnaval (m.). The word carnaval comes from the Latin “carne levare” (to remove the meat).

To prepare for Mardi Gras and the carnival, les gens se déguisent (people disguise themselves) in all sorts of costumes (m.) extravagants (extravagant costumes) and masques (m.) fantastiques (fantastic/fantasy masks), and arm themselves with tons of confettis (m.), serpentins (m.) multicolores (multi color streamers).

While people eat crêpes and gaufres (f.) (waffles) too, the carnaval tradition favors les beignets (m.) du carnaval (a type of donut).

There are carnivals throughout France. The most famous ones are in Dunkerque, Nice (Feb. 11-25), and Paris. with big chars (m.) fleuris (flowery floats/vehicles) and the climactic la Promenade du Bœuf Gras (the parade of the fat cow), where a magnificent cow leads the cortège (m.) (procession) .

Want to prepare for the celebration by learning some French? Get started right here