Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday is celebrated around the world by Catholics (and non-Catholics who just like to enjoy themselves). The day is actually more than just one day as the festivities begin sometimes weeks ahead with glorious cakes and indulgence. Some parts of the world refer to it as Carnival, and they make a carnival of the time leading up to Fat Tuesday.
So what is this really all about?
According to the Bible, Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection occurred around the time of the Jewish Passover, which was celebrated on the first full moon following the vernal equinox.
The Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325) set the date of Easter as the Sunday following the paschal full moon, which is the full moon that falls on or after the vernal (spring) equinox. But here is the problem with that: the paschal full moon can fall on different days in different parts of the world, which would mean that the date of Easter would be different depending on where you lived. So, for the purpose of calculating Easter, the ‘full moon’ is always set on the 14th day of the lunar month (a lunar month begins with the new moon). The Church also set the date of the vernal equinox at March 21, even though it can occur on March 20.
Okay, so knowing that, in 2018 the first “full moon” by this calculation would be March 31 (March 17 is the new moon, add 14 days, gives you March 31, which is after March 21). The next Sunday is April 1.
Now that you know when Easter is, you can calculate LENT.
Count backwards 46 days. What?? You thought Lent was 40 days huh? Nope. It is 6 Sundays plus 40 other days. Technically the Sundays are not part of Lent and there is much controversy on if you can “cheat” on Sunday. Here is a link that might help you, which basically says to examine your conscience.
So, you count backwards and you get to a Wednesday, aka Ash Wednesday. This is the beginning of Lent. And because it is the beginning, you gotta get it all out of your system on Tuesday, aka Fat Tuesday. As I said above though, different cultures have different ways of expressing Fat Tuesday, some starting weeks ahead. It can begin as early as Christian feasts of the Epiphany (Three Kings Day).
The word carnival derives from Latin caro, carn- ‘flesh’ + levare ‘put away.’ So to put the meat away as Lent is a time of fasting.
Among the places that celebrate Carnival are:
While Mardi Gras and Carnival are the same thing, in New Orleans, and most of the American celebrations we refer to as Mardi Gras. Technically Mardi Gras is just Tuesday but no one is counting.
Some interesting things you may not know about Mardi Gras are here on the History Channel.