Mardi Gras has always made a powerful impression on me, like many children in francophone countries. Most children look forward to this day filled with happy celebrations and memories.

If you aren't familiar with Mardi Gras, it is a carnival celebration literally translated into "Fat Tuesday." Anyone can pretend to be someone else, dress up, and live in the skin of their favorite heroes and characters for the day.

In a lot of minds, Mardi Gras is associated with Christianism, as it is celebrated on the Tuesday before the start of Lent. A few centuries ago, some would take the opportunity to eat plenty of fats and rich food before getting into a restrictive diet of fish or fasting. This is how the name Mardi Gras in French came to be. However, it was first and foremost a pagan celebration that goes back to Ancient Rome - even before the spread of Christianity - and celebrates fertility and spring.

It is important to know that Mardi Gras never falls on the same date. It always falls on a Tuesday in February, but some people don't truly know which one. Now, you can imagine what the biggest fear of children and parents is in February: arriving at school in full disguise but on the wrong day!

"Thanks" to my father, it did happen to my brother and me. As we were getting to school and stepping out of the car, my father realized that no other child was in costume. He stopped us before we walked too far and rapidly took off our outfits. In a few seconds, my brother went from a shinobi from Naruto to a child plainly dressed in black, regretfully giving away his fancy Kunais and ninja weapons (plastic ones, of course). I was stripped of my yellow tutu and my little antennas, going from a bee to a simple black and yellow shirt and black pants. My father saved the day, and he never got the Mardi Gras date wrong ever again.

The history of Mardi Gras in the United States started in 1704 in Mobile, Alabama, but quickly spread in Louisiana, the only state where it is now a legal holiday. The most notable carnival happens now in New Orleans, with thousands of tourists flowing down the street to watch the colorful parade. The krewes of New Orleans (the organizations that stage parades) have also been the ones to associate purple, green, and yellow with this carnival. Unfortunately, the Mardi Gras in New Orleans had to wait until the last century to become open to all and no longer be restricted to white populations. It is in 1973 that the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club was allowed to participate in the parade for the first time. They are today New Orleans' largest predominantly African American carnival organization. In 1992, Councilwoman Dorothy Mae Taylor sealed the purpose of Mardi Gras by making the city force krewes to accept members from all minority groups and discriminated groups if they wished to use city services for their parade. It finally became a celebration open to all.

In the end, the best part of Mardi Gras is the mix of all the cultures and social classes coming together for this celebration. The carnival of Venice has its own identity where the symbolic use of masks and costumes enables the population to forget about social status and identity for a couple of days. In America, the most renowned parade remains in Brazil, where European, African, and Native influences can be appreciated in the music, the costumes, and the decors. In Haitian culture, the celebration lasts several weeks before closing on Mardi Gras. The parade is known as "Kye Marn". It is then followed by the Rara parade, which originates from peasant Easter celebration customs.

You, too, can celebrate francophone countries' cultures by joining us on March 6. We will be hosting the launch of the Francophonie month. Many institutions and associations from francophone countries will be there and present their activities. It will be followed on March 7 by a talk in French about the influence of women in the creation of the Côte d'Azur. To close this Francophonie launch, join us on Friday, March 8 in the evening to watch the documentary "The Myth of the Black Woman" followed by a discussion with Haitian American Artist Nadege Tessono Okotie.

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