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6 Carnival Traditions from Around the World

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From the masked intrigues of Venice to the vibrant pulse of Rio de Janeiro, Carnival is celebrated the world over. In honor of this year’s Fat Tuesday, here are a few Carnival traditions you may not have heard about.

1. Joe Cain Day

Though New Orleans’s Mardi Gras is arguably the most famous along the Gulf Coast, Mobile, Alabama lays a proud claim to hosting the first Mardi Gras celebration in the United States. However, the local Mardi Gras celebrations dissolved in the aftermath of the Civil War until Joe Cain revived the tradition in 1867. According to legend, Cain dressed himself as a fictional Indian chief, Slacabamarinico, and marched through the city with a group of ragtag musicians who buoyed the city’s spirits. In subsequent years, bystanders were invited to step into the streets and join the parade on Joe Cain Day, the Sunday before Mardi Gras. Though the parade’s size is now more carefully controlled, the spirit of inclusion and resurgence continues.

2. Weiberfastnacht

Cologne, Germany holds one of the most famous Karneval celebrations in Europe. The festivities begin on November 11 at 11:11, dragging the holiday out for so long that it’s often called the Fifth Season. Here, on the Thursday before Shrove Tuesday, women traditionally cut men’s ties in a gesture challenging male dominance.

3. Užgavėnės

On Shrove Tuesday, many Lithuanians celebrate by burning a female effigy called Moré to signify the defeat of winter. The event is followed by symbolic battles between winter and spring that emphasize a promise of renewal. The celebration, which has pagan historical roots as well as Christian inspiration, often includes other costumed characters and features pancakes as its traditional dish.

4. Hanging Donkeys

One town in Catalonia adds an unexpected decoration to its Carnival festivities. Legend says a donkey was once sent up the narrow stairway to eat grass from the bell tower of the cathedral in Solsona. When the donkey balked, someone put a rope around its neck and tried to haul it the rest of the way. Now, stuffed donkeys are hung from the tower during Carnaval.

5. Water Fights

In Ecuador, local Carnaval celebrations feature mischievous games probably based on traditions the Huarangas Indians established. Contemporary revelers should be on guard: diablitos may be waiting to douse them with balloons filled with water or flour.

6. Courir de Mardi Gras

In Cajun communities throughout the prairies of Louisiana, Mardi Gras customs take on a colorful twist. Unlike the elaborately planned New Orleans celebration just to the east, where Mardi Gras societies control who can march in parades or attend balls, Cajun revelers invite the local community to don patchwork costumes and traipse through rural areas going door to door. Traditionally, participants can take on one of two roles: either that of capitane or courir. The capitane carries a whip and keeps the courir in order, while the courir goes from house to house begging for food and trying to cause as much mischief as possible. Together, the group collects whatever food the townspeople offer: sacks of potatoes, bags of rice, or random vegetables. If the group is lucky, a family will toss them a live chicken to chase and cook. At the end of the day, the group retires to make a gumbo from their bounty and, hopefully, to dance to a good Cajun fiddler until the sun comes up.

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Big Questions
What Happened to the Physical Copy of the 'I Have a Dream' Speech?
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AFP, Getty Images

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gave a speech for the ages, delivering the oratorical masterpiece "I Have a Dream" to nearly 250,000 people.

When he was done, King stepped away from the podium, folded his speech, and found himself standing in front of George Raveling, a former Villanova basketball player who, along with his friend Warren Wilson, had been asked to provide extra security around Dr. King while he was speaking. "We were both tall, gangly guys," Raveling told TIME in 2003. "We didn't know what we were doing but we certainly made for a good appearance."

Moved by the speech, Raveling saw the folded papers in King’s hands and asked if he could have them. King gave the young volunteer the speech without hesitation, and that was that.

“At no time do I remember thinking, ‘Wow, we got this historic document,’” Raveling told Sports Illustrated in 2015. Not realizing he was holding what would become an important piece of history in his hands, Raveling went home and stuck the three sheets of paper into a Harry Truman biography for safekeeping. They sat there for nearly two decades while Raveling developed an impressive career coaching NCAA men’s basketball.

In 1984, he had recently taken over as the head coach at the University of Iowa and was chatting with Bob Denney of the Cedar Rapids Gazette when Denney brought up the March on Washington. That's when Raveling dropped the bomb: “You know, I’ve got a copy of that speech," he said, and dug it out of the Truman book. After writing an article about Raveling's connection, the reporter had the speech professionally framed for the coach.

Though he displayed the framed speech in his house for a few years, Raveling began to realize the value of the piece and moved it to a bank vault in Los Angeles. Though he has received offers for King’s speech—one collector wanted to purchase the speech for $3 million in 2014—Raveling has turned them all down. He has been in talks with various museums and universities and hopes to put the speech on display in the future, but for now, he cherishes having it in his possession.

“That to me is something I’ll always be able to look back and say I was there,” Raveling said in the original Cedar Rapids Gazette article. “And not only out there in that arena of people, but to be within touching distance of him. That’s like when you’re 80 or 90 years old you can look back and say ‘I was in touching distance of Abraham Lincoln when he made the Gettysburg Address.’"

“I have no idea why I even asked him for the speech,” Raveling, now CEO of Coaching for Success, has said. “But I’m sure glad that I did.”

Live Smarter
3 Reasons Why Your New Year's Resolutions Fail—and How to Fix Them

You don’t need a special day to come up with goals, but New Year’s Day is as good a time as any to build better habits. The problem is, by the time February rolls around, our best laid plans have often gone awry. Don’t let it happen this year: Heed these three simple tips for fail-proof resolutions.


Let’s say your goal is to pay off $5000 worth of credit card debt this year. Since you're giving yourself a long timeframe (all year) to pay it down, you end up procrastinating or splurging, telling yourself you’ll make up for it later. But the longer you push it off, the bigger and more overwhelming your once-reasonable goal can feel.

Solution: Set Smaller Milestones

The big picture is important, but connecting your goal to the present makes it more digestible and easier to stick with. Instead of vowing to pay off $5000 by the end of next December, make it your resolution to put $96 toward your credit card debt every week, for example.

In a study from the University of Wollongong, researchers asked subjects to save using one of two methods: a linear model and a cyclical model. In the linear model, the researchers told subjects that saving for the future was important and asked them to set aside money accordingly. In contrast, they told the cyclical group:

This approach acknowledges that one’s life consists of many small and large cycles, that is, events that repeat themselves. We want you to think of the personal savings task as one part of such a cyclical life. Make your savings task a routinized one: just focus on saving the amount that you want to save now, not next month, not next year. Think about whether you saved enough money during your last paycheck cycle. If you saved as much as you wanted, continue with your persistence. If you did not save enough, make it up this time, with the current paycheck cycle.

When subjects used this cyclical model, focusing on the present, they saved more than subjects who focused on their long-term goal.


“Find a better job” is a worthy goal, but it's a bit amorphous. It's unclear what "better" means to you, and it’s difficult to plot the right course of action when you’re not sure what your desired outcome is. Many resolutions are vague in this way: get in shape, worry less, spend more time with loved ones.

Solution: Make Your Goal a SMART One

To make your goal actionable, it should be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. When you set specific parameters and guidelines for your goal, it makes it easier to come up with an action plan. Under a bit more scrutiny, "spend more time with loved ones" might become "invite my best friends over for dinner every other Sunday night." This new goal is specific, measurable, time-bound—it ticks all the boxes and tells you exactly what you want and how to get there.


“A false first step is when we try to buy a better version of ourselves instead of doing the actual work to accomplish it,” Anthony Ongaro of Break the Twitch tells Mental Floss. “The general idea is that purchasing something like a heart rate monitor can feel a lot like we're taking a step towards our fitness goals,” Ongaro says. “The purchase itself can give us a dopamine release and a feeling of satisfaction, but it hasn't actually accomplished anything other than spending some money on a new gadget.”

Even worse, sometimes that dopamine is enough to lure you away from your goal altogether, Ongaro says. “That feeling of satisfaction that comes with the purchase often is good enough that we don't feel the need to actually go out for a run and use it.”

Solution: Start With What You Already Have

You can avoid this trap by forcing yourself to start your goal with the resources you already have on hand. “Whether the goal is to learn a new language or improve physical fitness, the best way to get started and avoid the false first step is to do the best you can with what you already have,” Ongaro says. “Start really small, even learning one new word per day for 30 days straight, or just taking a quick walk around the block every day.”

This isn’t to say you should never buy anything related to your goal, though. As Ongaro points out, you just want to make sure you’ve already developed the habit a bit first. “Establish a habit and regular practice that will be enhanced by a product you may buy,” he says. “It's likely that you won't even need that gadget or that fancy language learning software once you actually get started ... Basically, don't let buying something be the first step you take towards meaningful change in your life.”


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