Around the World in 8 Shrove Tuesdays

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After getting through the tough days of Dry January, the evenings of sipping on soda and lime as your friends guzzle down glasses of wine, you’ll be pleased to hear another month of restraint is just around the corner: Lent. But as Dry January is preceded by New Year’s Eve, Shrove Tuesday provides us with the perfect excuse to throw all our sugary, fatty foods onto a plate and gorge on pancakes for starter, main and desert in preparation for a tough 40 days and 40 nights of sacrifice. This last hurrah attitude toward the eve of Lent is not constrained to the kitchens of Great Britain, oh no, it is celebrated around the world with anything from the making of cute (calorific) cakes to the craziness of a full-blown carnival. So we thought we’d take a look at how other countries take a normal Tuesday and turn it into the best one of the year!

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Pancake Day (UK)

Good old Blighty knows how to celebrate Shrove Tuesday in one way, and one way only – the making of piles and piles of pancakes to stuff our faces with! Whether you’re a spinach and cheese crepe kinda gal, all about chocolate spread or just love an old-fashioned lemon and sugar topping on your pancakes, you can fill your boots with these sweet and savoury treats all day long. Even the Houses of Parliament is getting in on the Pancake Day action, with teams from the Houses of Lords, the Houses of Commons and the Fourth Estate taking part in the Parliamentary Pancake Race on the banks of the River Thames – hear, hear!

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Carnaval (Brazil)

In typically Brazilian fashion, Brazil celebrates Shrove Tuesday by throwing one of the largest parties in the world. Whether you’re up north in Salvador, boogying in Brasilia or have got a hot ticket to the most famous carnival of them all in Rio de Janeiro, you won’t be more than 100 metres from a party in the dates leading up to Lent! Carnival essentials include samba shoes, sequins, feathers, caipirinhas and stacks of energy, because you’ll be dancing in the streets for six days in a row!

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Mardi Gras (New Orleans, USA)

Much like Brazil, the city of New Orleans explodes with colour and carnival in the days leading up to the start of Lent. Dating back over 300 years, Mardi Gras – or fat Tuesday, in English – is a celebration ingrained in the roots and the identity of the city. For many people, New Orleans is synonymous with the celebration… and Jazz of course! Revellers take to the streets in magnificent costumes or dressed in purple, green and gold, to watch the colourful parades go past and catch the beads and trinkets thrown from the passing floats.

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Carnaval de Oruro (Bolivia)

Originally an indigenous festival in the Altiplano town of Oruro (Uru Uru) and later merged with Catholic beliefs, the modern carnival is celebration of these two cultures. With more than 48 folkloric dancing groups, marching bands and spectators taking to the streets in a pilgrimage to the Pie de Gallo grotto, the carnival is a heady mix of sacred ceremonies, colourful costumes and raucous revelry. It’s a world-famous festival that is in fact one of UNESCO’s Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity – and if it’s good enough for the UN, it’s good enough for us!

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Carnevale di Venezia (Venice)

It is thought that the traditions of Venice’s carnival started in the 12th Century after the victory of the Venice Republic when people began gathering in San Marco Square. From then the carnival had been an on-and-off fixture in the Venice calendar, until the Italian government decided to reinstate the tradition annually. The most striking feature of the carnival are the unusual masks worn by attendees, from beautiful to downright scary, you can parade freely around the city without worrying about the state of your face underneath!

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Carnaval de Cadiz (Spain)

Like its Latin brother, Spain can’t help put get in on the Shrove Tuesday party action. The southern city of Cadiz throws a two week programme of festivities to celebrate the dawning of Lent. The main feature of the carnival is satirical, comedic songs sung by local choirs (coros) and smaller groups (comparsas or chirigotas) who come out the woodwork, dressed in weird and wacky costumes, for the festival period. So if you’ve got your singing voices and Spanish at the ready, Cadiz is the carnival for you.

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Terça-feira Gorda (Madeira) or Malasada Day (Hawaii)

If the thought of all that partying around the world is making you hungry, you will be pleased to hear that in Madeira and Hawaii there are some delicious sweet treats on the menu. First made on the Portuguese island of Madeira, malasadas are a donut-like treat baked for Shrove Tuesday as a means of using up all the remaining sugar and fat in the house before the beginning of Lent. This tradition was taken to Hawaii in the 19th Century by Portuguese immigrants employed on Hawaiian sugar plantations.

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Laskiainen (Finland)

Our final port of call on this Shrove Tuesday global tour is the Scandinavian nation of Finland. Here the locals celebrate Laskiainen by eating a hearty green soup, gorging on sweet breads filled with whipped cream and jam and spending the day downhill sledging (not all at the same time we hope!).