The Real Reason Why Mardi Gras is Called Fat Tuesday—Experts Explain

Mardi Gras is one of the biggest days of the year in many communities, especially if you live in New Orleans.

In the U.K, Mardi Gras is typically known as Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day, and households gorge on the sweet treats before Lent begins.

But elsewhere in Europe and in parts of the U.S. it is typically celebrated as a big carnival. The most famous one is in New Orleans and it has its roots in the city's French heritage. In NOLA, they consider Mardi Gras to incorporate the entire period from Twelfth Night—the last night of Christmas that begins on January 6 (Epiphany)—to Ash Wednesday, which falls on February 22 this year.

Mardi Gras History

The origins of the festival trace back to 17th century European carnivals. In 1718, New Orleans was established near the area known as "Pointe du Mardi Gras," and by the 1730s, the city held yearly Mardi Gras parades and masquerade balls.

In New Orleans, at least 1 million people take to the streets every year to participate in the city's iconic Mardi Gras parades and festivities. Although the city cancelled the parade in 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival returned in 2022, albeit with shorter parade routes. These shorter routes will continue at 2023's celebration, according to local media reports.

Why is Mardi Gras Called 'Fat Tuesday'?

The celebration and carnival, will take place on February 21 this year, but why is it called "Fat Tuesday"?

Arthur Hardy, a world-renowned expert on Mardi Gras and a fifth-generation New Orleanian, told Newsweek: "Mardi Gras is French and translates as Fat Tuesday, so called because it represents the last day to feast before the fasting of Lent which starts the next day, Ash Wednesday."

Alecia P. Long, an assistant professor of History at Louisiana State University, told Newsweek that Fat Tuesday symbolizes "the day of excess and indulgence before the sacrifices of Lent begin on Wednesday."

"Observant Catholics go and get ashes on their foreheads to mark the 40-day period of penance and sacrifice leading up to Easter, so the Wednesday after Fat Tuesday is called Ash Wednesday," Long added.

"In recent years, folks have started also referring to Lundi Gras (Fat Monday) but the term Fat Tuesday is associated with the day itself. The whole season, of course, begins on Epiphany and goes through the date of Mardi Gras each year—which varies with the Catholic religious calendar."

Lundi Gras is a relatively recently name for a series of Shrove Monday events that take place during the Mardi Gras. The term Lundi Gras was not widely applied until the 1980s.

Comp Showing Madi Gras
In this combination image, the 2022 Krewe of Bacchus parade takes place in New Orleans on February 27, 2022, main image, and the Bay City Brass Band perform in the Mardi Gras parade in Mobile, Alabama, inset. In parts of the U.S. the day before Ash Wednesday is typically celebrated as a big carnival. Getty