The name comes from the slaughtering of and feasting on the fatted calf.
It marks the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, the last day before the beginning of Lent. The Lenten ritual of sacrifice and remembrance of Christ's anguish embraces the 40 days leading up to Holy Week (including Holy Thursday and Good Friday). Holy Week marks the culmination of Lent. Then, Easter marks the beginning of a new year in the Church calendar.
In America Mardi Gras is mostclosely associated with the festival in New Orleans, Louisiana.Most people are not aware of the fact that these he annual festivities start on January 6, the Twelfth Night Feast of the Epiphany, when the three kings are supposed to have visited the Christ child
The events build to a climax on Fat Tuesday. The parties and parades will continue until Lent begins at the stroke of midnight on Tuesday.
The tradition and celebration are so huge that Mardi Gras is a legal holiday in New Orleans. It is scheduled to occur 46 days before Easter. Since the actual date Easter occurs on changes yearly, Mardi Gras can happen on any Tuesday between February 3 and March 9.
This year, Mardi Gras and Easter occur on their latest possible date.
For more than two centuries Mardi Gras has been an annual event in New Orleans, except during the two World Wars.
By some accounts, Mardi Gras came to the New World in 1699, when a French explorer arrived at the Mississippi River, somewhat south of present day New Orleans. He named the spot Point du Mardi Gras because he knew the holiday was being celebrated in his native country that day.
Eventually the French in New Orleans celebrated Mardi Gras with masked balls and parties, until the Spanish government took over in the mid-1700s and banned the celebrations. The ban continued even after the U.S. government acquired the land but the celebrations resumed in 1827.
The official colors of Mardi Gras, with their roots in Catholicism, were chosen 10 years later: purple, a symbol of justice; green, representing faith; and gold, to signify power.