What is Mardi Gras?
Mardi Gras, literally "Fat Tuesday," has grown in popularity in recent years as a loud and festive event. But its roots lie in the Christian calendar, as the "last hurrah" before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. That's why the enormous party in New Orleans, for example, ends abruptly at midnight on Tuesday, with battalions of street sweepers pushing the crowds out of the French Quarter towards home.
What is less known about Mardi Gras is its relation to the Christmas season. The ordinary-time interlude known in many Catholic cultures as Carnival (or Carnevale – meaning without meat) kicks off with the Epiphany, also known as Twelfth Night, or Three Kings' Day. Epiphany, which falls on January 6, 12 days after Christmas, celebrates the visit of the Wise Men bearing gifts for the infant Jesus. In cultures that celebrate Carnival, Epiphany kicks off a series of parties leading up to Mardi Gras. In the liturgical calendar, we know this time as Ordinary time which refers to the normal "ordering" of time outside of the Advent/Christmas or Lent/Easter seasons.
Mardi Gras is the day before Lent begins, which is 40 days prior to Easter. During Lent, Christians do not eat meat on Fridays. In the early celebrations of Mardi Gras, a large ox was led through towns to remind residents to abstain from meat consumption. Essentially, Mardi Gras is a day for celebration and fun before beginning the serious time of Lent and reflection on the trials and triumphs of Jesus in the Christian religion.
The tradition of Mardi Gras took hold in the United States when it was settled by European immigrants. It was the French settlers who brought with them the tradition of Mardi Gras. While Mardi Gras is celebrated all over the country, the largest and most famous celebration is in New Orleans, Louisiana, where the French influence is highly prevalent.
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