Fat Tuesday Overview
"Fat Tuesday" is the English translation of the French "Mardi Gras," a day of feasting and celebration before the start of the fasting and abstinence of the Catholic religion's 40 days of Lent. Also known as "Carnival," Fat Tuesday in most communities – especially New Orleans, Louisiana – encompasses parades, parties and lots and lots of feasting, especially on rich and fatty foods.
Fat Tuesday: Why Tuesday?
Lent begins each year on Ash Wednesday, 46 days before Easter Sunday. The Catholic Church looks on this period as a time of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. Some people feel the need to "give something up," usually a bad habit or vice, for Lent. Fat Tuesday offers a chance for these people to let loose before the period of austerity. Of course, there are plenty of non-religious people who enjoy the partying on Fat Tuesday and have no intention of observing Lent.
Fat Tuesday: When Is It?
Fat Tuesday actually is the final day of the Mardi Gras or Carnival season. Traditionally, the season begins on January 6, known as the Epiphany or Twelfth Night, celebrating the visit of the gifts-bearing Magi to the baby Jesus. The Mardi Gras season extends to Fat Tuesday, which occurs between February 3 and March 9 because the date of Easter changes from year to year.
Fat Tuesday: The Parties
New Orleans, the most famous Mardi Gras city in the world, celebrates throughout the entire Carnival season. Dozens of parades, costume balls and parties fill the calendar culminating in Fat Tuesday – an official holiday in Louisiana -- which ends promptly at the stroke of midnight. Most of the parades are put on by "krewes," social groups formed primarily to sponsor the parades. Float riders wear colorful masks and costumes while throwing plastic beads and other trinkets to the throngs lining the parade routes throughout New Orleans, especially in the historic French Quarter.
Fat Tuesday: The Food
The Carnival season kicks off food-wise with parties featuring a King Cake, a wreath-like confection in which a small trinket is hidden. Pieces of the cake are doled out to revelers, and the one who gets the piece with the trinket (usually a small figurine of a baby) is named "King for the Day" – and is beholden to host the next King Cake party. It used to be traditional to slaughter and eat a fattened calf on Fat Tuesday, but in most places these days that tradition has been supplanted by indulging in other rich and fatty food. Some people celebrate Fat Tuesday by making and eating pancakes, which gives them the chance to use up eggs, dairy and fat before the fasting period of Lent. In between Epiphany and Fat Tuesday, general feasting on local delicacies – and more King Cake – occurs regularly in the communities that celebrate the season.
Photo by dsb nola on Flickr