Jessica Booth
Updated February 02, 2018 7:39 am
Hubert Stadler / Getty Images

It’s almost time for one of the biggest celebrations of the year! Mardi Gras is happening on February 13th, only a little over a week away. The event, also known as Fat Tuesday, is known for its fun parades, bright beads, and unique traditions. If you want in on the excitement this year, here’s exactly how you can take part in Mardi Gras.

Before you jump into it, though, you should probably get a better idea of what the holiday is. Mardi Gras has a very long history with strong religious ties. It’s been around since medieval Europe, and although celebrations have changed a bit, it’s always had the same message: It’s basically a way to indulge before the holy period of Lent begins. Mardi Gras was traditionally a debaucherous event full of parties, during which people binged on meat, cheese, and eggs before going into a period of fasting and fish during Lent. It was a way to really go all out before a somber 40 days began.

Today, Mari Gras carries that same message. Falling the day before Ash Wednesday, it’s a way to let loose before Lent. While it’s known as Fat Tuesday, which only lasts for one day, Mardi Gras can also refer to Carnival, which is the period between Epiphany (the Twelfth Day of Christmas) and Ash Wednesday.

In other words, Mardi Gras lasts a whole lot longer than one day.

If you want to take part in the celebrations, there’s no reason you can’t start now — parades and traditional events have already been going on for weeks in New Orleans. Of course, you can always just celebrate Fat Tuesday as well.

The best way to get involved in Mardi Gras is to head to New Orleans. The city really comes alive during this time of the year. There are so many things to do, from parades to street parties to lavish balls. New Orleans is really the place to be if you want the full feel of Mardi Gras, and anyone who goes down there is welcome to take part. It’s fun, it’s a little intense, and it’s very exciting.

Unfortunately, not everyone can hop on a plane and head to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. If you want to celebrate on your own, you can jump in on some traditions:

Wear the right colors.

Mardi Gras is generally thought of in terms of bright colors for a reason — Carnival has an official color scheme. For New Orleans and most other places, it’s gold, purple, and green. Gold is for power, purple is for justice, and green is for faith. Whether you’re wearing something festive or throwing a Mardi Gras party, these colors need to be everywhere.

Bake a king cake.

Food is a big part of the New Orleans Mardi Gras celebration, and a king cake is a staple. A king cake is a tradition with additional religious ties; it’s about Epiphany, the day Jesus showed himself to the three wise men. As a symbol of this, a little plastic baby is placed inside a king cake. It’s an oval-shaped cake, kind of a cross between a coffee cake and a French pastry. They are traditionally decorated in purple, green, and gold. When a king cake is served, each person checks their slice for the “baby.” Whoever finds it gets to be the “king” for the day, and then they have to host the next party and provide that king cake.

Find celebrations near you.

New Orleans is the best place to be for Mardi Gras, but there are plenty of other cities that want to get in on the action. Check out the cities near you to see if any celebrations are going on. For example, Universal Studios in Florida always has a Mardi Gras celebration.

Have a Fat Tuesday feast.

There’s a reason Fat Tuesday has that name. It’s a day that’s all about indulging in food. Lent is a 40-day holy period when Christians are supposed to fast or eat a diet heavy in fish (no meat). Fat Tuesday is your big chance to eat whatever you want before that period begins. And yes, you can indulge even if you don’t celebrate Lent.

Wrap yourself in beads and throw a party.

Mardi Gras is all about partying, so if you can’t get to a big event near you, just make one yourself. Go for a Mardi Gras theme with the colors and the food, buy a bunch of colorful beaded necklaces, and let your inhibitions go!