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What is Mardi Gras?

Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday (Mardi French for “Tuesday” and gras for “fat”) is a basically Roman Catholic Christian holiday of indulgence before Easter that dates back thousands of years to pagan celebrations of fertility (which included animal sacrifice, running naked through the streets, drinking, gambling and overeating). In Ancient Rome after the death of Christ, religious leaders incorporated some of those local traditions into the new Christian faith.

As a result, 40 days of fasting and self-denial before Easter (called Lent) were set aside to repent of all sins and excesses allowed at Mardi Gras. Christians who observe Lent usually commit to giving up something such as smoking, swearing, eating or drinking a favorite item, watching TV, etc., during the 40 days of Lent.

The first American Mardi Gras took place on March 3, 1699, near present-day New Orleans, Louisiana. Later in 1827, students donned colorful costumes and danced through the streets of New Orleans as celebrated in Paris. In 1837, the first recorded New Orleans Mardi Gras parade took place. In 1857, a torch-lit procession with marching bands and rolling floats was added. Rex, King of the Carnival, has been participating in parades since 1872, and established purple, gold and green as the Mardi Gras colors. Other lasting customs include throwing beads, wearing masks, decorating floats and eating King Cake, a rich cake that contains a plastic baby, to represent the baby Jesus, hidden inside.

Mardi Gras is celebrated with elaborate festivities in many parts of the United States and the world. Mardi Gras 2021 will fall on Tuesday, February 16, 2021, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, parades in New Orleans have been cancelled.

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