The lead-up to Lent goes by many names, but the most popular is probably “Mardi Gras”, with its festive celebrations made famous in New Orleans, LA, & Mobile, AL. They’re known for their food, parades, and general rabble-rousing. But what exactly is Mardi Gras?

Mardi Gras, which is French for “Fat Tuesday”, celebrates the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, which is a time in Christianity for fasting & sacrifice. Mardi Gras is looked at as the final opportunity to indulge in earthly pleasures (like fatty food, which is where the “Fat Tuesday” moniker actually comes from). It’s also known by other names, like “Shrove Tuesday”, which comes from the word shrive (“to confess one’s sins”) & “Fastnacht Day”, from the German word for donut. Elsewhere around the world, Mardi Gras is called “carnival”.

Where I’m from, near New Orleans, Mardi Gras season lasts for more than one day, officially beginning on January 6th, which is the Feast of the Epiphany, or the end of the Christmas season. You won’t find too many people tossing beads in the streets in late January, though; Mardi Gras celebrations tend to start about 2 weeks before Lent, with most of the big shindigs taking place in the weekend leading up Ash Wednesday & on Fat Tuesday.

My favorite part of Mardi Gras, however, is king cake, the delectable confection baked with a baby figurine inside. The tradition goes that whoever finds the baby is believed to be blessed with luck & prosperity, and they’re made “king” for the day. (Their good luck & prosperity also means they’re supposed to provide the next king cake.) So it’s totally okay to be one of the unlucky ones who doesn’t get the baby. Because the real good luck is in the fact that you’re getting to eat one of the most delicious pastries known to man.

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