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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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music
Everything You Need to Know About Record Store Day
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The unlikely resurgence of vinyl as an alternative to digital music formats is made up of more than just a small subculture of purists. Today, more than 1400 independent record stores deal in both vintage and current releases. Those store owners and community supporters created Record Store Day in 2007 as a way of celebrating the grassroots movement that’s allowed a once-dying medium to thrive.

To commemorate this year’s Record Store Day on Saturday, April 21, a number of stores (a searchable list can be found here) will be offering promotional items, live music, signings, and more. While events vary widely by store, a number of artists will be issuing exclusive LPs that will be distributed around the country.

For Grateful Dead fans, a live recording of a February 27, 1969 show at Fillmore West in San Francisco will be released and limited to 6700 copies; Arcade Fire’s 2003 EP album will see a vinyl release for the first time, limited to 3000 copies; "Roxanne," the Police single celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, will see a 7-inch single release with the original jacket art.

The day also promises to be a big one for David Bowie fans. A special white vinyl version of 1977’s Bowie Now will be on shelves, along with Welcome to the Blackout (Live London ’78), a previously-unreleased, three-record set. Jimmy Page, Frank Zappa, Neil Young, and dozens of other artists will also be contributing releases.

No store is likely to carry everything you might want, so before making the stop, it might be best to call ahead and then plan on getting there early. If you’re one of the unlucky vinyl supporters without a brick and mortar store nearby, you can check out Discogs.com, which will be selling the special releases online.

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Big Questions
What Is the Meaning Behind "420"?
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Whether or not you’re a marijuana enthusiast, you’re probably aware that today is an unofficial holiday for those who are. April 20—4/20—is a day when pot smokers around the world come together to, well, smoke pot. Others use the day to push for legalization, holding marches and rallies.

But why the code 420? There are a lot of theories as to why that particular number was chosen, but most of them are wrong. You may have heard that 420 is police code for possession, or maybe it’s the penal code for marijuana use. Both are false. There is a California Senate Bill 420 that refers to the use of medical marijuana, but the bill was named for the code, not the other way around.

As far as anyone can tell, the phrase started with a bunch of high school students. Back in 1971, a group of kids at San Rafael High School in San Rafael, California, got in the habit of meeting at 4:20 to smoke after school. When they’d see each other in the hallways during the day, their shorthand was “420 Louis,” meaning, “Let’s meet at the Louis Pasteur statue at 4:20 to smoke.”

Somehow, the phrase caught on—and when the Grateful Dead eventually picked it up, "420" spread through the greater community like wildfire. What began as a silly code passed between classes is now a worldwide event for smokers and legalization activists everywhere—not a bad accomplishment for a bunch of high school stoners.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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