Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans and elsewhere may culminate tomorrow, on Fat Tuesday, but in most of Germany it’s today — Rosenmontag — that marks the end of the Carnival (Fasching) season. And the highlight of Rosenmontag in several German cities is a huge, festive parade.

When I was growing up in southern California, the big parade, of course, was the annual Rose Parade on New Year’s Day. I dutifully watched it (and still do) every year on TV, and have even seen it in person a few times.

But I didn’t grow up in a culture, a town, or even a part of the country that really celebrated Mardi Gras and so never really knew much about it. Then, when I was twelve, we moved to Germany, where I lived for most of my teenage years. And we lived near Mainz, which is one of the hotbeds of Fasching celebrations. After growing up with the Rose Parade, Rosenmontag’s Fasching Parade was quite a change of pace (although, coincidentally, “Rosenmontag” literally means “Rose Monday).

Most of us skipped school that day to go into downtown Mainz with our families or friends, to stand along the parade route with thousands of other people, all of us bundled up against the cold, and many in wacky costumes. I remember a group of people waddling along the edge of the parade route one year, in chicken costumes, stopping periodically to perform the, well, the “chicken dance.” (You’re humming the tune now, aren’t you?)

In the parade were huge-headed “puppets,” bizarre floats displaying political satires, all sorts of crazy costumes, and people throwing candy and confetti and more candy. And everyone, participants and spectators alike, shouting “Helau!”

While we lived overseas our “hometown” English-language newspaper was, of course, the Stars and Stripes … which just last week published an article on Mainz’s Fasching celebrations. And there’s even a video, so you can see and hear a bit of the festivities for yourself.

Happy Rosenmontag! Helau!!