WHAT: Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday, is the final day of feasting and celebration ending the Gulf Coast’s Carnival season and preceding the solemnity of Lent.
WHEN: Carnival season begins Jan. 6, also known as the Feast of the Epiphany or Twelfth Night (12 days after Christmas) and King’s Day, marking the arrival of the three wise men at the birthplace of the Christ child. The season ends on Fat Tuesday, always the day before Ash Wednesday. Parades and street parties are prevalent during the final days of the season.
WHERE: Perhaps the most famous American Mardi Gras events take place in New Orleans, but Mobile, Ala., and other Gulf Coast communities also have long Mardi Gras traditions. And Mardi Gras celebrations have popped up in other regions in recent years.
HISTORY: Historians say the celebration’s roots go back to various pagan celebrations of spring. But Pope Gregory XIII made it a Christian celebration when he put it on his calendar in 1582 on the day before Lent. The customs moved to North America with French explorers who settled the Gulf Coast in the 17th century. The modern New Orleans tradition of parades and costumes dates back to at least 1838.
THE NUMBERS: Various estimates put the number of tourists and locals who jam the streets in New Orleans and the surrounding area at more than 1 million. The economic impact on New Orleans topped $1 billion for the first time in 2000, according to a University of New Orleans economist.
For more Mardi Gras trivia visit www.mardigrasneworleans.com/faq.html.