Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
This party starts on a Friday and lasts 6 days, ending on Ash Wednesday! Known as the largest celebration in the world, the atmosphere has been characterized with such words as ostentatious, bombastic, and complete mind-blowing. Parades, blocos (street party), fancy high-class costume balls, and music concerts take over the city as all other “non-Carnival” related businesses close down. There is simply nothing else to do but allow yourself to be entertained in the streets.
Masquerade Balls in Venice, Italy
Left over from the Renaissance era, the Venetians were allowed to wear masks in public from December 26th (St. Stephens Day) until midnight Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Outlawed entirely by 1797, the mask wearing at Carnival slowly worked its way back to private palace parties and for shorter periods of time. La Maschera piu bella (most beautiful mask contest) is the most favorite event at Carnival in Venice, Italy.
Kathari Deftera in Greece
“Clean Monday” begins at a special service on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday where all of the faithful bow to one another and ask for forgiveness. This is a way to leave the indulgent carnival festivities behind (3 weeks before Lent) and enter into a more Christian way of life. On Clean Monday, calendared as a Greek national public holiday, one finds himself abstaining from meat, eggs, and dairy while enjoying outdoor excursions with family and friends. Kite building and flying is also customary for this day, as it also marks the beginning of spring.
Shrove Tuesday in England
On the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday in the U.K., the sound of church bells calls all Christians to confession to have their sins forgiven (shrive). Also known as the pancake bells, this 500-year-old practice gave the opportunity to rid the pantry of all fatty foods like butter, eggs, and sugar – which is restricted during Lent. Even today, women compete in pancake races where they run with a pancake in a hot frying pan, flipping it 3 times before reaching the church. The first to kiss the church bell ringer on the cheek is the winner! Mob football games are also organized in the streets to celebrate this last day before entering in to the solemn 6 weeks of Lent.
Mardi Gras in Mexico
The Spanish brought Carnaval to Mexico during colonial times and it takes place over 5 days. The atmosphere is very similar to the New Orleans Fat Tuesday with parades, floats, fireworks, around-the-clock street concerts, dancing in costumes and masks, and food and drink vendors. They even add a religious component by crowning a Carnaval queen on Saturday night. Monday is considered "Oppressed Husband Day," where husbands can do what they want as long as it conforms to laws and religion. By Tuesday, everyone is home and spiritually preparing themselves for the 40 days of Lent.
However you plan to celebrate before the Lenten season begins – Mardi Gras, races, pancakes, flying kites, or maybe none of these things – we pray that your 40 days are filled with hope and that the Gospels will help inspire, guide, and reassure you along the way. Pope Francis reminds us that God’s mercy and grace surrounds us always, and that He can turn the ordinary into extraordinary.