It completely snuck up on me this year, and even when I heard a mention that Ash Wednesday is already this week (which also surprised me), I didn't put that together until just now. Probably because of all the election coverage and all--in Detroit, there was always a big build-up toward Mardi-Gras in the media, and even now I imagine the main story centers on the taste of, high fat of, origin of, or locations you can get your own Paczki (pronounced Poonch-key...at least by the TV reporters).
The idea of carnival (which is usually related to Mardi Gras, though not always identical) has intrigued me for a number of years, and that's shown up in a few of my stories. When I was in Spain I spent the night of Carnival dressed as a cave-man and dancing in the streets of a town that's been celebrating Carnival since medieval times. Pego, I think was the town. It's a fairly small town, smaller than Denia where we were (which itself isn't huge). Denia had recently started trying to replicate Pego's way of celebrating it to get in some more tourism money, but according to the locals it didn't match the celebrations in Pego.
Can anyone point me to any good carnival-type scenes in fantasy/SF books?