Mardi Gras has its roots in the Catholic traditions. The Catholic Church directed a fasting Lent season in which meat was to be abstained from for the 40 days of Lent. With refrigeration basically non-existent, meat would have to be eaten the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, which is the start of Lent, or be discarded. This Tuesday became the day of feasting and its French translation, Mardi Gras literally means Fat Tuesday.
Lupercalia was a festival held around the middle of February, believed to banish evil spirits and bring health and fertility to the city. This was traditionally a pagan celebration that the church tried unsuccessful to get rid of, so they repurposed this carnival as a celebration for the coming of Lent. Soon, Lupercalia and Mardi Gras were celebrated hand-in-hand and gluttony in all forms ensued!
On March 3, 1699, when French explorer Sieur d’Iberville started his exploration of the Mississippi River, Iberville set up camp 60 miles south of where New Orleans is today. To honor the celebration of Mardi Gras in France, Iberville declared that site the ‘Pointe du Mardi Gras’, or the point of Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras developed into a formal tradition, when Louisiana Governor Marquis de Vaudreuil started holding elegant society balls in New Orleans. These began spilling onto the streets and in 1837 the first Mardi Gras parade was documented with masked revelers walking the streets or costumed in carriages and on horseback.
This year Mardi Gras is on Tuesday, March 8, 2011 – so please eat, drink and be merry!