Mardi Gras translates from the French as “fat Tuesday”. The holiday has roots in the Christian liturgical calendar. It marks the end of Carnival season and the beginning of Lent. Mardi Gras in New Orleans, LA (NOLA) is our country’s most celebrated location for Fat Tuesday. NOLA traditions include parades, carnival masks, beads, and sweet indulgent “King Cakes”.
About Carnival, Mardi Gras, and Lent
Carnival season begins on the Epiphany or January 6, the day the Magi followed a bright star to Bethlehem, where they visited the newly born Christ child. Like many holidays, Carnival is celebrated with traditional foods and plenty of revelry. Mardi Gras is the last day of carnival, celebrated several weeks later on the day before Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent.
In Christian tradition, Lent is a time for fasting, repentance, and alms-giving. The period that lasts for 40 days, until the Saturday one week before Easter Sunday—the day of Jesus resurrection from the dead in 30 A.D. Fat Tuesday is one last day of overindulgence before the long stretch of Lenten denial. Fat Tuesday is also known as Shrove Tuesday and Pancake Day.
Not all Christian churches observe Lent. The customs is observed by Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox churches, and some protestant denominations, including Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Anglican. It is not observed by Baptists, Evangelicals, and Latter Day Saints. However, there are many protestant denominations worldwide and liturgical practices vary from one to another, and within denominations from one country or culture to another.
Traditional foods for Carnival and Mardi Gras include cakes, doughnuts, and pancakes, containing eggs and butter—rich foods and ingredients that are forbidden during the austerity of Lent. The colors of Mardi Gras are purple, green and gold, representing (respectively) justice, faith, and power. Everything from cakes to masks and beads will bear these colors.
2023 Mardi Gras Carnival Dates
- Epiphany: Friday, January 6, 2023
- Fat Tuesday: February 21, 2023
- Ash Wednesday: February 22, 2023
- Easter: Sunday, April 9, 2023
Malasada Day = Mardi Gras in Hawaiʻi
Like many aspects of life in Hawai’i, we put some Aloha into our celebrations. Here are a few ideas for celebrating Mardi Gras with island flair.
Malasadas. For Mardi Gras, it is customary to indulge in malasadas, also known as Portuguese donuts (“donuts without holes”) for Mardi Gras in Hawai’i. When Portuguese immigrants came to Hawaiʻi to work on the sugar plantations, they brought with them these sugar-coated deep-fried pastries. Begin Catholic, they especially indulged in these sweets on Mardi Gras, which were then given up for Lent. Here are some popular locations around the islands for malasadas:
- Hawai’i: Tex Drive In, 45-690 Pakalana Street, Hwy. 19, Honokaa, HI 96727
- Hawai’i: Punalu’u Bake Shop and Visitor Center, 95-5642 Mamalahoa Hwy, Na‘alehu, HI 96772
- Hawaiʻi: Kawamoto Store, 784 Kilauea Ave, Hilo, HI 96720
- Kauaʻi Bakery, 2600 Kaumualiʻi Hwy, Lihue, HI 96766
- Maui: Komoda Bakery in the T. Komoda Store, 3674 Baldwin Ave, Makawao, HI 96768
- Maui: Donut Dynamite, 1246 Lower Main St, Wailuku, HI 96793
- Maui: Home Made Bakery, 1005 Lower Main Street, Wailuku, HI 96793
- Oʻahu: Agnes’ Bake Shop Malasada Truck, Manuheali‘i parking lot, 5 Ho’olai St, Kailua, HI 96734
- Oʻahu: Pipeline Bakeshop & Creamery, 3632 Wai’alae Ave, Honolulu, HI 96816
- Oʻahu: Kamehameha Bakery, 1284 Kalani St Unit D106, Honolulu, HI 96817
- Oʻahu: Leonard’s Bakery (multiple locations—their busiest day of the year)
Roast pig. In New Orleans, some groups begin carnival by roasting a pig. Sam Choy’s oven-roasted kalua pig recipe is an easy, delicious, and affordable alternative to firing up an imu.
Coconuts. Handing out Coconuts during Mardi Gras parades was a tradition in past decades in New Orleans. Today, long plastic beaded necklaces in traditional colors of purple, green and gold have replaced most other trinkets. In Hawaiʻi, coconuts painted in Mardi Gras colors might be used as seasonal décor around your home. Or, leave them secretly on your neighbors’ doorsteps!
Malasada Day & Mardi Gras events
As always, we focus on free and cheap events. Since Mardi Gras is 47 days before Easter Sunday and Easter can fall anywhere between March 22 and April 25, we usually begin updating Fat Tuesday events in January or February for the current year.)