Image: By Lynne Ann Mitchell

Some Carnival and Mardi Gras traditions are thriving during the pandemic, with homes being converted into stationary floats and music continuing to play. However, many large-scale events have been canceled or postponed in 2021 to protect the public. What are these holidays? Here is a short explanation:

Mardi Gras Season

The Mardi Gras season starts on January 6 and ends on Fat Tuesday, which varies annually. In 2021, Fat Tuesday is Tuesday, February 16. The Mardi Gras season is celebrated differently worldwide, depending on the culture; it may include extravagant balls, parades, or private dinner parties. The pandemic has dramatically impacted these large, organized events. 

Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras

Cities with large Christian or Catholic populations celebrate with public parades including ornate costumes and masks to celebrate Mardi Gras, which translates to “Fat Tuesday” in French, or Shrove Tuesday in the U.K. The day of Mardi Gras occurs on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, when anyone, including Christians, may indulge in fatty foods and alcoholic drinks as a celebration with family and friends before entering the Lenten period of fasting, prayer, and penance.


Before the pandemic, worldwide, people of varying Christian faiths celebrated Carnival preceding Lent’s start with large gatherings. In Latin, Carnival means “farewell to meat,” signifying the importance of abstaining from meat during the Lenten season. Lent is the 40-day period beginning on Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2021, the day after Fat Tuesday, February 16, and ends on Easter Sunday, April 4, 2021. During this 40-day Lenten period, Christians fast, give up something of sacrificial value, or begin new positive practices to honor the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some Christians may choose various items to abstain from during their fast such as sugar, caffeine, or meat. This year, Carnival is expected to be subdued as most celebrations and parades have gone virtual, been postponed or canceled to protect the public from Covid-19 and the new variants. 

King Cakes

The Twelfth Day of Christmas, January 6th, is also known as Epiphany, Twelfth Night, or Kings Day. On the Christian calendar, three gift-bearing Magi traveled to visit the baby Jesus and arrived on this date. To commemorate this event, King Cakes are available in New Orleans and many global communities. Baked in an oval shape to symbolize the unity of faiths, they are decorated in Mardi Gras colors: purple represents justice, green represents faith, and gold represents power. A small baby symbolizing Jesus is hidden inside each cake. If you find the prized baby Jesus, you are tasked with bringing the cake to the following year’s celebration. These special cakes are only available starting on January 6 until the end of Fat Tuesday, February 16. Since this tradition continues, be sure to enjoy one with your family before they disappear again until next year!

If you travel to celebrate Mardi Gras or Carnival, these events may be a different experience this year. Share with us how you plan to celebrate in 2021 to make it memorable. 

Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a diversity and inclusion consultant, cross-cultural trainer, etiquette expert, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE Centre, she is an attorney and mediator. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business, Access to Asia, won a coveted Kirkus Star, and was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the Greater Austin Business Awards.

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