Fat Tuesday or ‘Mardi Gras’ is on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday and at the start of Lent. We’re making sure that you have the time of your life during this week-long period of festivities. The origins of Mardi Gras link back to pagan celebrations of the arrival of spring and fertility, such as the Roman festivals of Saturnalia that celebrated the same and that of Lupercalia which was also characterized by banqueting and merrymaking. This day is celebrated with parades and feasts before the start of the fasting season of Lent.
History of Fat Tuesday
‘Mardi Gras’ is French for Fat Tuesday. It’s also called Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Tuesday in different parts of the world. Mardi Gras is synonymous with carnival celebrations in New Orleans, Venice, and Rio, although the day is also celebrated in a similar fashion in countries with large Roman Catholic populations.
Festivities similar to Mardi Gras date back to ancient Roman times where people celebrated the harvest season. When Christianity arrived in Rome, these popular local traditions were incorporated into the new faith. The debauchery typical of Mardi Gras precedes Lent, the 40-day period of fasting and penance leading to Easter Sunday.
As Christianity and Mardi Gras spread from Rome to other European countries, new traditions were born and some old ones took on new forms. What began as a holiday rooted in religious tradition became a cultural phenomenon, leading to binging and parties that weren’t always followed by the 40-days of penance.
Mardi Gras celebrations began in America when French explorers Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville landed near present-day New Orleans, Louisiana. A few years later, New Orleans and other French settlements observed the holiday with street parties, masked balls, and lavish dinners organized by social clubs called ‘Krewes.’
Today, Mardi Gras is celebrated all over the world integrating local styles and native traditions. From Rio’s weeklong Carnival festivities to Quebec’s Winter Carnival and Germany’s Karneval that includes parades, costume balls, and a tradition where women cut off men’s ties to symbolize women’s power.
Besides the procession of floats, colorful beads also feature in celebrations in the U.S. and a king cake with a trinket or baby figurine, to represent the Christ Child, baked inside it.
Fat Tuesday timeline
On March 3, French explorers Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville hold a small celebration and name their landing spot Point du Mardi Gras.
The Spanish take control of New Orleans and abolish the rowdy rituals.
The first recorded Mardi Gras parade is held in New Orleans.
The tradition of ‘parade throws,’ where the float riders throw beads to the crowds, originates with the Rex Krewe, the city's oldest social club.
Fat Tuesday FAQs
What is the difference between Fat Tuesday and Fat Thursday?
Fat Tuesday is the day before the start of Lent, Ash Wednesday. In Poland, ‘Paczki’ Day, instead, is celebrated on Fat Thursday, otherwise known as ‘Tlusty Czwartek.’
What is special about Fat Tuesday
Fat Tuesday’s period of festivals and feasts lead up to a period of reflection and fasting.
What does ‘Shrove’ mean?
Shrove, derived from ‘shrive’, refers to the confession of sins as a preparation for Lent. As the final day before the austerity of the Lenten fast, Shrove Tuesday also has many customs related to food.
How to Celebrate Fat Tuesday
Join in on the festivities
Take a little trip to New Orleans or plan a vacation to other countries that celebrate Mardi Gras to experience the different activities they do during carnival week. You can even participate in the local celebrations taking place in your town.
Prepare your own Fat Tuesday feast
Bring the festivities home and celebrate with your friends and family. Organize a Fat Tuesday at home and prepare a holiday feast. You can even have your version of king cake to top off the festivities.
Share your favorite traditions
Post on social media! You can also use the hashtags #FatTuesday, #MardiGras, and #ShroveTuesday on your social media account and share your favorite customs that take place on this holiday.
5 Zesty Facts About Fat Tuesday
Mardi Gras colors have specific meaning
Purple represents justice, gold symbolizes power, and green represents faith.
“Throw Me Something, Mister”
These are the ‘magic’ words used to get the float riders to aim the throws for you to catch.
It’s illegal not to wear masks on a float
Float riders have to wear a (carnival) mask by law for the duration of their trip.
Key to the city
According to tradition, the Mayor of New Orleans hands over the key to the city to Rex, the king of Carnival, on Mardi Gras Day.
Colorful ladders with seats
Ladders line St. Charles Avenue on days during Mardi Gras for children to climb up and enjoy the view of the parade.
Why We Love Fat Tuesday
It is celebrated across the world
Pre-Lenten festivals take place all around the world in many countries with significant Roman Catholic populations. Celebrations include masquerade balls, carnival festivities, parades, dress-ups, and costume balls.
Mardi Gras is fun
Mardi Gras is a day of revelry that includes parades, parties, balls, and carnivals before the 40-day period of fasting and reflection. It is the last day of the Carnival season, which has evolved into a week-long period of festivities around the globe.
It is tradition
Mardi Gras is a reflection of ancient traditions and diverse cultures that have their origins in the pagan celebrations of spring and fertility. As time passed, the practices surrounding the day have changed. The heritage of Lent, Carnival, and Fat Tuesday, have been incorporated into regional customs.
Fat Tuesday dates