What is Mardi Gras and How is it Celebrated?

Every year, you might hear of people celebrating Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras festivities that are going on at local bars or restaurants. And, if you live in New Orleans, you know that Mardi Gras is a big deal.

But what is Mardi Gras? What does this celebration represent?

What is Mardi Gras?

Mardi Gras is a carnival (celebration) held in some countries on what people call Shrove Tuesday, aka Fat Tuesday.

Mardi Gras takes its origins in the celebration of the seven days before Lent, so Tuesday (aka Fat Tuesday) is the last day we can eat without denying ourselves which is where the term “fat” comes in.

Fat Tuesday will be observed on Tuesday, February 26, 2017.

The Religious Connection

Lent is a religious time of observance in Christianity; typically followed by the Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Methodist denominations. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends approximately six weeks later, right before Easter Sunday (April 16, 2017).

The purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer, through prayer, doing penance where a person will typically give up something (food, alcohol, or what might be considered a bad habit) along with a repentance of their sins.

Mardi Gras Around the World

United States

It’s believed 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.

This event was moved in 1871 to New Orleans, specifically to the French Quarter.

Kids and adults of all ages fill the streets during the parade to collect colorful beads and trinkets thrown from parade floats. Festive costumes and masks are worn.


Called Maslenitsa, the Russian Mardi Gras also corresponds to the beginning of the period of fasting.

During this day, the Russians wear costumes and enjoy pancakes.

Finally, the day ends with a fire demonstration where the doll of Maslenitsa is burned.

Straw doll or rags, Maslenitsa is usually dressed in women’s clothing to represent the ancient sacred image of the deity.


England celebrates Pancake Day which is when their traditional “Pancake Race” is organized. The goal is to run as fast as possible while making a crepe in the pan.

This tradition dates from 1440 at Olney in Buckinghamshire: a woman preparing pancakes, hearing the sound of the bell of a church, rushed towards her with the pan still in her hands.


Martedi Grasso is the last day of the Carnival in Venice which will be held February 18-28, 2017.

The Carnival has been celebrated since the Middle Ages in Italy with the traditional “Flight of the Angel” ceremony opens the festivities. The Feast of the Maries is represented by the 12 most beautiful women of Venice.

Do you celebrate Mardi Gras? Have you been to New Orleans? What do you give up for the six weeks of Lent? Tell us about it in the comments!