The annual celebration of Mardi Gras is a party unlike any other, with parades, costumes, music and some of the best food in America. Visiting New Orleans during Mardi Gras may be a travel trend that never goes out of style, but what is Fat Tuesday, exactly?
Mardi Gras actually translates from French to “Fat Tuesday," therefore both names are used interchangeably. Fat Tuesday traditionally falls the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. For those who observe Lent, it’s a time of reflection and fasting, so Fat Tuesday is a time to let loose, indulge in some fatty foods, drink beer and enjoy the beloved regional dessert that is king cake.
Mardi Gras can trace its roots to medieval Europe, and French explorers brought the tradition over to the country's American colonies. In fact, New Orleans was established as a city in 1718 by Bienville, and by the 1730s Mardi Gras had already become an annual tradition among the city's high society. During New Orleans’ French colonial days, wealthy members of Creole society began throwing extravagant Mardi Gras balls from the Feast of Epiphany on January 6 to the day before Fat Tuesday. This tradition — now known as Carnival — continues to this day, with parades and festivities held in the weekends leading up to Fat Tuesday.
Not only is Louisiana home to some of the best Cajun, Creole, soul food and seafood restaurants, it’s also the only state in America that recognizes Mardi Gras as a legal holiday, so workers can expect a day off to join in the celebration. In New Orleans, “krewes,” which are essentially party clubs, start celebrating up to two weeks before Fat Tuesday, parading floats through jam-packed streets and tossing beads to fellow revelers.
While New Orleans may be the city most closely associated with Mardi Gras, other Louisiana cities, like Lafayette and Lake Charles, go all-out in celebrating the holiday. Revelers can also experience the spirit of Fat Tuesday outside of Louisiana; Mobile, Alabama, has been celebrating Mardi Gras since 1703, even longer than New Orleans, and it’s also a big event in Galveston, Texas, Pensacola, Florida, and St. Louis. And if you live on the West Coast, no problem — San Diego also throws a great Mardi Gras party.