What Does Fat Tuesday Mean

Explore the origins, celebrations, and indulgences of Mardi Gras, known as Fat Tuesday, a day of worldwide festivities before the Lenten season. Discover why many consider ‘Fat’ Tuesday the happiest day of the year!

The Origins of Fat Tuesday

Fat Tuesday, recognized in many parts of the world as Mardi Gras, can be traced back to pagan celebrations of spring and fertility, including the Roman festivals of Saturnalia and Lupercalia. Even after Rome became Christianised, they continued the celebration as a build-up to Ash Wednesday, marking the start of Lent, a forty-day period of fasting and penitence before Easter. Fat Tuesday is so-named because it represents the last opportunity for merriment and indulgence before this solemn period commences.

The Celebrations Around the World

The traditions associated with Fat Tuesday vary greatly around the globe. In America, particularly in New Orleans, Mardi Gras is marked with grand parades, vibrant colors, and costume balls. Brazil’s Carnival, though not directly linked to Fat Tuesday, shares the same ethos of merrymaking before the austerity of Lent. Across France, the Fête de la Chandeleur involves gatherings of friends and family for feasting and festivities.

  • The United States: Huge floats, elaborate costumes, and masked balls are characteristic of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. A key part of the festivities are the ‘throws’ – trinkets thrown from the parade floats that spectators eagerly catch.
  • Brazil: Although not specifically linked to Fat Tuesday, Brazil’s Carnival shares similar elements. Days of street parades and samba performances culminate in a grand parade on Fat Tuesday.
  • France: French traditions vary by region, but common features include lavish feasting and the traditional ‘beugnots’, or doughnuts.

The Significance of ‘Fat’

The term ‘Fat’ in Fat Tuesday refers to the practice of eating rich, fatty foods on the day before the Lenten fasting begins. Traditionally, this was done to clear the cupboards of all butter, milk, and eggs, which were forbidden during Lent. Some of these rich foods and treats have become iconic Mardi Gras foods, like pancakes, doughnuts, and king cake – a sweet, cinnamon-filled treat decorated in traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold.

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