Here in the United States, we are familiar with the Mardi Gras celebration that is held each year in New Orleans. The term "mardi gras" (French for "fat Tuesday") technically refers to just today, the last day before the beginning of Lent, and not to the weeklong celebration.
In Latin America, the pre-Lenten celebrations are referred to as "Carnaval". "Carnaval", similar to our word carnival, has its roots in Latin. Carne = meat, Vale = farewell From the Middle Ages on into the 20th century, Catholics were supposed to abstain from eating meat during the forty days of Lent prior to Easter. "Carnaval" was the last chance to feast and be merry before the period of solemn penance.
The most lavish "Carnaval" in the world is that of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. More than two million people participate in the yearly event, which includes street festivals, elegant balls, and extravagant parades and performances by the "samba schools" that prepare all year long for the festivities.