Our Karneval, or Fasching, is always the Saturday before Ash Wednesday.

Who says Germany doesn't have a Mardi Gras?  It is Karneval, called Fasching in some regions, and it is another of the world's great celebrations.

Karneval, like most German festivals, has a long history and a deeper significance, having crossed the Alps from Italy in the Middle Ages.  As with Mardi Gras, the main idea was to eat, drink and be merry before the fasting and abstinence of the holy season of Lent.

Germans embraced the pre-fasting festivities with the same vigor they do all such celebrations, but things finally got out of hand so that by the 16th century Karneval was reduced to one week, that which ends with Ash Wednesday.

Today Karneval, or Fasching, is celebrated with parades featuring huge floats, bands and costumed marchers; the most famous Karneval cities, Düsseldorf, Köln and Mainz, compete for the honor of having the best parade and most spectators.

It's a time when Germans take a break from the ordinary for a bit of singing, dancing and all-around craziness.  Not a bad idea!