Everything to Know About Mardi Gras, Including Its Origin, How to Celebrate, and More

Gather the beads, prep the sweets, and get ready to feast because Mardi Gras is here!

Mardi Gras
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It's time to indulge!

Ready your feathered face mask, keep an eye out for flying beads, and prep that decadent king cake because it's time for Mardi Gras.

The Christian feasting period-turned-cultural phenomenon dates back thousands of years, and while New Orleans takes the cake for the most colorful and elaborate celebrations, the joyful extravaganza is enjoyed all over the globe.

Though the holiday falls on Feb. 21 this year, the events have technically already begun, starting with the kickoff of the Carnival celebration which annually commences after the Christian feast of the Epiphany (Three Kings Day), and culminating the day before Ash Wednesday.

New Orleans Celebrates Mardi Gras During COVID-19 Pandemic
Mardi Gras "float" decorations on a home in New Orleans. Erika Goldring/Getty

Mardi Gras, meaning "Fat Tuesday" in French, reflects the practice of gorging on rich and fatty foods ahead of Lent, the 40 day-long fasting period that follows in the days leading up to Easter, in which fish is often only consumed.

Since Carnival dates back to the ancient days of pagan spring and fertility rites, much of its origin derives from Medieval Latin. In fact, "carnelevarium means to take away or remove meat, from the Latin carnem for meat," according to History.com.

While you prepare to binge on sweet treats and feast your eyes on parades, parties, and galas galore, here's some food for thought on the holiday's history and how you can celebrate Mardi Gras at home!

Where did the Mardi Gras tradition originate?

Mardi Gras
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Although New Orleans, Louisiana is highly credited for throwing the first Mardi Gras celebration, there's been an ongoing debate about whether Mobile, Alabama was the original origin.

The argument for Mobile being the first American location to celebrate the holiday stands on the fact that the city was founded in 1703 before New Orleans, which was founded in 1718.

It's said that French settlers threw a party with Mardi Gras-type celebrations on "Fat Tuesday" in 1703, "But what will never be known is the actual form early Carnival celebrations took," Cart Blackwell, curator at the Mobile Carnival Museum, told The Washington Post.

The historian continued that the festivities concocted in Mobile were adopted in New Orleans, and are now the template for celebrations across the country.

What other names is Mardi Gras known by?

Mardi Gras
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In addition to being recognized as its literal French translation, "Fat Tuesday," Mardi Gras is also referred to by other titles including Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day, and Pączki Day.

Shrove Tuesday derives from the Anglo-Saxon Christian practice of going to confession and being shriven, or absolved of sins before the 40-day fast leading up to Easter. It marked the final day to use up eggs and other fatty foods before abstinence, and pancakes were the perfect solution (hence the alternate holiday name).

Similarly, Pączki Day involves the indulgence of consuming donuts of the same name, which are made of deep-fried dough with sweet fillings and topped with powdered sugar. It's a Polish tradition but is practiced largely in Detroit and Chicago in North America.

What are typical Mardi Gras traditions in New Orleans?

Mardi Gras
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Synonymous with Mardi Gras, New Orleans welcomes nearly 1.5 million visitors annually to take part in the Carnival festivities — ranging from elaborate parades with decked-out floats to glitzy costumes with dazzling headdresses, feathers, and an excess of glitter.

While many parades and parties take place during the celebration period, the Krewe du Vieux is the most anticipated as it's one of the earliest parades of the New Orleans Carnival calendar founded in 1987, consisting of more than 40 themed-parade processions while showcasing some of the top brass and traditional jazz bands in New Orleans.

One of the most popular parade locations to experience the Mardi Gras magic is Bourbon Street, located in the French Quarter. The epicenter of the fun, the beautiful balcony-lined streets are filled with wild party goers enjoying the sites, while shouting at parade participants for beads and doubloons.

Which foods are associated with Mardi Gras?


It only makes sense that a large emphasis is placed on food for a holiday deemed "Fat Tuesday." In addition to pancakes and pączkis, the king cake is a traditional Mardi Gras dessert that's just as anticipated as the beads.

The ring-shaped cakes (to resemble a king's crown) are typically fried or baked, glazed and frosted, and decorated in typical Mardi Gras colors. A unique aspect of the tradition involves hiding a tiny baby figurine inside of the cake — and the person who finds it in their slice must throw the next big party.

The figurine is supposed to represent baby Jesus since the beginning of Carnival is right after King's Day (The Epiphany). The tradition started centuries ago in ancient Europe.

Indulging while dressing up in fun costumes is the perfect way to celebrate the holiday from the comfort of your own home. Head to the store to purchase a king cake, or whip one up from scratch to immerse yourself in the joy of the holiday.

What colors are associated with Mardi Gras?

Mardi Gras
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Purple, green, and gold are the traditional colors of Mardi and they each were given special meaning by the king at the first Rex parade in 1892. Under the theme "Symbolism of Colors," beads were created to reflect royal status.

Purple stands for justice, gold represents power, and green reflects faith — and they were to be given out to the person who exhibited the color's meaning, according to International Business Times.

When is Mardi Gras 2023?

Mardi Gras falls on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023.

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