Yes, it’s true that Mardi Gras is a day filled with drinking, bead-throwing, and parading through the streets of New Orleans. But the roots of the celebration go much deeper than one may think. Mardi Gras, which is French for “Fat Tuesday”, is actually an ancient celebration that first started in medieval Europe.
After the celebration was introduced to Rome, Venice, and then to France at the end of the 17th-century, Mardi Gras made its way to French-American colonies in 1699. On March 2nd, 1699, French explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville landed about 60 miles away from what would later become New Orleans. He named this place “Pointe du Mardi Gras” on the eve of Fat Tuesday. Bienville later established “Fort Louis de la Louisiane” (now the city of Mobile) in 1702. In 1703, Fort Louis de la Mobile celebrated the first American Mardi Gras.
But what’s the deal with calling the holiday Fat Tuesday, you ask? This name, and the celebration that comes along with it, is actually of Catholic origin. Fat Tuesday is the last day of the “Carnival” season — a mainly southern European and Latin American celebration filled with feasting, drinking, and dancing. It’s basically a season-long Mardi Gras.
The day after Fat Tuesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. During Lent, Catholics often fast in preparation for Easter. So before the fasting takes place, those who take part in Lent indulge in their favorite foods and drinks during Carnival and Fat Tuesday.
Celebrants literally fatten up on the Tuesday before Lent. (This is a holiday we can really get behind.)
Fat Tuesday isn’t mentioned in the Bible, and actually, the Bible explicitly tells practitioners to stay away from drunkenness, sexual immorality, and debauchery. Knowing this, some experts theorize that ancient Catholics may have adopted Pagan fertility celebrations for Fat Tuesday. Others believe Mardi Gras is simply an act of rebellion against the Church’s negative view of sex and gluttony.
Mardi Gras is all about releasing your sins before attending Ash Wednesday services. Now knowing the meaning behind the name, we’re ready to embrace the food, drink, and fun during this year’s February 13th celebration. Bring on the king cake!