Most know Mardi Gras as a time where over 1 million visitors flock to The Big Easy for a few days (or more) of booze, beads, and boudin. Or, maybe you picture Rio's Carnival filled with beautiful women, samba and copios amounts of food. Either way, bright feathers, nonstop indulgence, and bizarre masks bring to mind the Christian holiday celebrating the last big party before Lent. Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Carnival or Carnaval are all synonymous and are observed across the globe—primarily in those with large Roman Catholic populations.
A brief history of the worlds craziest feast
The origin of Mardi Gras is a bit of a debate. It's argued that the creation of Mardi Gras actually lies not in Catholicism, but in Paganism. A popular theory is that Mardi Gras is the Christian-ized version of Lupercalia. Lupercalia was/is a Pagan holiday celebrating the birth of Spring. Lupercalia was a drunken week of merrymaking held each February in Rome, after which participants fasted for 40 days. Strangely enough, the Romans donned masks, dressed in costumes and indulged all of their fleshly desires much like today. Though some will argue that the wild parties popped up only as a result of the soon abstinence from sex and meat during lent. It's no doubt, Mardi Gras is a Christian holiday and a crazy-fun-cultural-shin-dig that kicks off a season of fasting. But, like any good Christian holiday, it's probably got pagan roots that date back thousands of years to heathen seasons and fertility rites.
A few tidbits about the world's biggest hurrah
Mardi is French for Tuesday, and gras means fat. In France, the day before Ash Wednesday came to be known as Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday.” The French, are also who brought this tradition to the States way back in 1703, which is why the name stuck. It's meaning has evolved over time and has different contexts depending on the country you're in. For example, in Belgium, also called Shrove Tuesday, they eat a breakfast of oysters and champagne before parading through the street dressed Ostrich feathers to chase away winter. It's quite the sight and is rooted, like all good traditions, in folklore and gluttony.