Fat Tuesday, also known as Carnival, is celebrated on the day before Lent. According to History.com, the celebration dates back thousands of years to pagan spring and fertility rites, including the raucous Roman festivals of Saturnalia and Lupercalia. When Christianity arrived in Rome, religious leaders decided to incorporate these popular local traditions into the new faith, rather than trying to abolish them altogether. As a result, the excess and debauchery of the Mardi Gras season became a prelude to Lent, the 40 days of penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Along with Christianity, Mardi Gras spread from Rome to other European countries, including France, Germany, Spain and England.
Traditionally, in the days leading up to Lent, merrymakers would binge on all the meat, eggs, milk and cheese that remained in their homes, preparing for several weeks of eating only fish and fasting. In France, the day before Ash Wednesday came to be known as Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday.” The word “carnival,” another common name for the pre-Lenten festivities, may also derive from this vegetarian-unfriendly custom: in Medieval Latin, carnelevarium means to take away or remove meat.
Many historians believe that the first American Mardi Gras took place on March 3, 1699, when the French explorers Iberville and Bienville landed in what is now Louisiana, just south of New Orleans. They held a small celebration and dubbed the spot Point du Mardi Gras. In the decades that followed, New Orleans and other French settlements began marking the holiday with street parties, masked balls and lavish dinners. On Mardi Gras in 1827, a group of students donned colorful costumes and danced through the streets of New Orleans, emulating the revelry they’d observed while visiting Paris. Ten years later, the first recorded New Orleans Mardi Gras parade took place, a tradition that continues to this day. Other lasting customs include throwing beads and other trinkets, wearing masks, decorating floats and eating King Cake. What are your favorite Fat Tuesday food traditions?
* King Cake is a cinnamon-roll like cake inside with sugary icing with traditional Mardi Gras colored sprinkles on the outside. A baby figurine (said to represent Baby Jesus) is placed inside or underneath. The person who gets the piece of cake with the trinket is supposed to have good luck for the year and is responsible for the cake the following year.