Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday as many people know it, is famous for the lively parties before Lent. As many as a million tourists flock to New Orleans to celebrate.
While it’s not a bank holiday, the day has a long and intriguing history. Elements of the celebration have been around for thousands of years as part of Spring festivals.
Today we’ll learn the story hiding behind the masks and discover the full significance of the name.
Let’s dive in!
What is Fat Tuesday?
New Orleans is a melting pot of French, American, and African history, and the languages have also had plenty of time to mix. The French phrase Mardi Gras translates to Fat Tuesday. Essentially, it’s a day of celebration before a period of fasting.
It falls on the last day before Lent begins. The tradition came to Louisiana along with French Catholic settlers. Because the holiday is associated with many Christian practices and is recognized worldwide, people celebrate in different ways.
In New Orleans, the Mardi Gras period begins right after Christmas and extends until Lent. This time is called Shrovetide and ends on Shrove Tuesday, also known as Mardi Gras.
The day of celebrations is different each year because it depends on the lunar cycle. It can fall between February 3 and March 9. Fat Tuesday is essentially a giant party before a more solemn period of atonement.
Like many Christian holidays, elements of pagan festivals remain to help ordinary folk recognize church holidays with familiar traditions. Festivals like Saturnalia and Lupercalia celebrate various aspects of Spring and Winter. The purity, fertility, and harvest ideas transitioned into Lent and Fat Tuesday as Rome adopted Christianity.
What Does Fat Tuesday Have to Do With Lent?
Lent is a time of fasting to recognize the 40 days and nights Jesus spent in the wilderness. The word comes from an old Anglo-Saxon term meaning “lengthen.” The period is associated with the days getting longer before Spring. During Lent, people give up meat, sweets, and other treats.
It’s called Fat Tuesday because it’s the last day you’ll be able to indulge before Lent. Most people participate in a feast to “fatten up” before the fast along with the party.
Pro Tip: If you’re planning on heading to New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras, these are 5 Reasons to Avoid Bourbon Street in New Orleans.
What States Recognize Fat Tuesday As a Holiday?
While the US observes this day on calendars everywhere, it’s an official state holiday in some places. You may get the day off work in certain parts of Alabama, Mississippi, or Florida. In Louisiana, however, the entire state celebrates.
The legislator declared it a state holiday in 1875. Since then, all local government offices close their business to honor it. Part of the Mardi Gras act specifically makes it legal to wear a mask to disguise your identity for the day. However, it remains illegal other days of the year, except for Halloween.
How Do You Celebrate Fat Tuesday?
The essential element of Fat Tuesday is the feast. Since many people give up meat for Lent, making a carnivore-friendly meal is traditional. You can go with conventional cajun food or create your own favorites to mark the last day before a fast.
If you want to celebrate with a traditional drink, you have a couple of options. Hurricanes, which consist of a blend of rums, passionfruit syrup, and lemon, is the standard drink at the Mardi Gras parade. Sazerac, a rye drink, is also popular in New Orleans.
Speaking of the Mardi Gras parade, you’ll notice people wearing plastic bead necklaces and masks. Don’t forget to wear yours while you put on some Big Easy jazz and dance!
Why Do People Wear Masks on Fat Tuesday?
Mardi Gras has been a massive celebration for a long time. People wore masks to mix between upper and lower-class folk freely. It was a way to protect everyone’s reputation. Now, the law requires people in the parade to wear masks for an air of mystery.
When wearing a mask, it’s hard not to go big on a costume. The traditional purple, green, and gold colors associated with Mardi Gras represent justice, faith, and power. The bright outfits and extravagant masks are a vital part of the tradition.
What Food Is Popular on Fat Tuesday?
One of the most iconic Mardi Gras foods is king cake. The sweet treat is similar to coffee cake or cinnamon rolls but has purple and green frosting. Traditionally, the chef puts a tiny plastic baby in the batter to represent the Christian epiphany.
Whoever finds the baby is named King. It’s a symbol of luck and prosperity. It also means they’re in charge of bringing the cake to the following year’s event.
Many other popular Mardi Gras foods are associated with New Orleans favorites. That includes beignets, gumbo, jambalaya, and creole. Crawfish Étoufée is probably the most popular special of the day. Of course, people may celebrate with different treats in other parts of the country.
In Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, locals call Fat Tuesday Pancake Day. Everyone eats short stacks and enjoys other flapjack-themed activities.
But really, anything decadent that you’ll give up for Lent after Fat Tuesday can be on the menu.
Pro Tip: Fuel up on Fat Tuesday at one of these 5 Can’t Miss Restaurants in New Orleans.
Is Lent Only a Catholic Thing?
The fast is predominantly associated with the Catholic church. But some Protestants also follow the traditional Lent fast after Fat Tuesday. Additionally, some secular traditions use the period to give up alcohol, sweets, or other vices for health reasons.
You won’t offend anyone if you’re acting respectfully. However, it’s important to note that many devout Christians take the time seriously. They may not appreciate secular people making light of their traditions. Still, there’s nothing wrong with using the period for self-reflection.
How Will You Celebrate the Tradition?
For some people, Fat Tuesday is essentially a bar holiday where they party with friends without considering Lent. However, there are plenty of more wholesome ways to mark the day. It can be a fun time with your family and friends where you splurge before a time of self-reflection.
So put on a mask, enjoy some food and drinks, and consider what bad habits you can do without for a while. Whatever you decide to do, drive safe and be aware of other people who may overindulge in the festivities.
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