Celebrate Mardi Gras / Maskerade in Costume
A Traditional Mediterranean Holiday
The spirit of Mardi Gras, or Maškerade in Italian, is hard to deny. The cold winter is coming to a close. People can't work in the fields just yet. Ahead of them lie 40 days of Lent which means less food, hardly any sweets, and a spirit of repentance and preparation for Easter. So - the last moment before Lent (also known as Korizma in Croatian) - what do you do? PARTY, of course!
Maškerade and Mardi Gras have always been a natural outlet for subtle political protesting, stating your point of view and dressing up like a raving lunatic.
With a history of outside political domination by neighboring rulers, the Croatian peasants managed to keep their own identity by sticking to tradition, doing each year the same things as done before. (This can be both a blessing and a curse!)
Here in Dalmatia, like many parts of the Mediterranean, the traditional occupations are agricultural and fishing in nature. Regardless of who was on top, there was the grape harvest in the fall, the olive harvest and pressing of the oil. Right after that came Christmas festivities with caroling and specific recipes to make. The cooking the brandy was done after Christmas time - then time to pick oranges in January, plant lettuce to plant, olives to harvest, olive oil to press. In the Spring was Maskerade, Lent, Easter - then clean the vineyards of grass and weeds to promote the grapes. A single storm could destroy an entire crop. The life here has always been hard, but joyful. Summer is the time when the peasant (known as a Težok, (teh-jacque) which sounds a lot like the word teško - difficult). )
With all of this political, economic and social upheaval, the local people had to keep their wits, and how to better do that than to dress up like a child in wild, mostly homemade costumes and full-out express themselves?
Here in Dalmatia there are two Saturday night functions held in the hotel till the early morning hours. These are only dress rehearsals for the really big day: Poklod. In New Orleans and in the United States, this day is known as Fat Tuesday - because people usually eat a lot before the beginning of life modifying, modest 40 day Lent!
It's always passed the status quo since the whole day is kind of a joke day where you can let out steam. This holiday helps save your sanity and state your point of view "in disguise". Thank goodness for Maškerade!
mardi gras madness
It's fun to dress up in costumes!
Carnival Dress up!
Never mind the Weather - What happens on Fat Tuesday?
Fat Tuesday is a day in it self.
There is an afternoon procession, with participants dressing up, hooting, hollering and waving their arms and legs around. Crazy junk cars are painted with messages. Today, of all days, it looks as if the whole world has gone mad.
Late afternoon "Jure" (yoo-ray) or George - a stuffed manequin, is "tried" and "found guilty". He is guilty for the job layoffs, for dog poop on the main walkway, for the unexpected windstorm that destroyed a favorite tree, and so on. The charges can go on and on. The crowd cheers - "that's right!" "I saw him do it." When all the charges have been read he is placed on a wooden plank near the sea and burned in effigy. Everyone feels a lot better now.
There are contests for best costume, best group, funniest, scariest and so on. There is a special Maskerade for children a few days before so they get their chance to be in the spotlight. However, Maskerade is NOT Halloween. Halloween costumes can be unnecessarily scary, with bloody teeth, ghosts, witches, evil spirits, ghouls and of course, Freddie Krueger. Maskerade or Mardi Gras is more silly than scary. If you ever wanted to dress up like Posh Spice, now is your chance. Any transvestian urges can be expressed now, and feel free to make a statement (you can dress up as the president of the EU in a non-flattering way if you don't feel too much in favor of Croatia joining the EU, as some here do). The sky is the limit.
People nowadays do buy their costumes, but the best ones of all come from the old noggin (or as Croatians like to say, from their tikva - zucchini - squash!). A little gathering funny hats, skirts, signs and so on make the best costumes. My son's teacher created great costumes using foam, silicon and spray paint with mommy workshops twice a week until Maskerade arrived. Technology only helps to keep these traditions alive.
Do you like to dress up?
I dress up for Halloween or Maskerade (Mardi Gras):
A little Croatian History
- A Brief Political History of Croatia
Croatian history begins in the 4th century b.c. when Dionysius the Elder managed to create a Greek settlement on the island of Vis, which was then called Issa. Little by little, the Greek and Iliric occupied region became Roman controlled and develop
The Croatian Calendar Months of the Year
Incidentally, it's only fitting that Maskerade / Mardi Gras falls in the shortest and craziest "female" month of the year. The call it a female month because the names of the months are masculine except for February (Veljaća - with an "a" ending implies its feminine nature).
Croatian months of the year
- January - Sijecanj - male
- February - Veljanća - female
- March - Ožujak - male
- April - Travanj - male
- May - Svibanj - male
- June - Lipanj - male
- July - Srpanj - male
- August - Kolovoz - male
- September - Rujan - male
- October - Listopad - male
- November - Studenog - male
- December - Prosinac - male
Tuesday night festivities
After all the shouting, cheering and dancing outside, it's time to move the festivities indoors. After all, Maskerade or Mardi Gras mostly falls in February, with temperatures in the 40s and 50s and occasionally cold wind. Never mind - the festivities must go on! People wear body suits and other long johns under their crazy costumes to expose the zanier sides of their natures. It's now or never.
In the hotel is the traditional dance and munchies, there may be a band, and there will be a big drawing with fabulous prizes, like a huge TV set, DVD player, stereo, etc. depending on the year. Instead of bingo we play Tombula, which means you have six groupings of numbers from 1 to 90. The method is in how the numbers are grouped. If your section's numbers are called first, you may get a fabulous prize! In short, everyone has every number, it's just a matter of how and where the numbers are placed.
Last Chance to Let Loose!
The locals who know how to live life to the fullest try to stay at Maskerade til the very end - which can last til 3 or so in the morning. Never mind if there's work tomorrow - the antics and natural creativity of the night will bring hilarious moments and memories that will warm the soul for months or years into the future!
Starting tomorrow, Ash Wednesday kicks off lent. Everything settles down a bit. Generally speaking most Dalmatians lose the winter pounds they gained from Christmas because in Lent many give up the things they like - sweets, cigarettes, coffee and stick to boiled vegetables with olive oil and modestly prepared simple meals with fish and bread. It's a natural purging time. Those who have the time and the will go to daily or at least more frequent mass. Many Dalmatians are neither religious nor non religious, but tradition plays a definite role here. The Maskarade provides a valuable function - a day of madness - and the madder the better - to let the soul release the tensions of life and remember that life is after all - a gift to be lived and enjoyed!