Today is Mardi Gras ("Fat Tuesday" in French), a holiday celebrated across the globe, mainly in places with large Roman Catholic populations. It's a day of celebration before the religious season of Lent , a time of fasting, begins this week, on Ash Wednesday. 

According to History.com, when Christianity arrived in Rome, religious leaders decided to incorporate the popular local festivals of Saturnalia and Lupercalia into the new faith, an easier task than banning them. As a result, the excess and debauchery of the Mardi Gras season became a prelude to Lent, the 40 days of fasting and penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. 

The first American celebration of Mardi Gras -- also known as Carnival or Shrove Tuesday -- took place in New Orleans in 1699 when French explorers sent by King Louis XIV marked the occasion. In the early 1800s, a group of students donned colorful costumes and danced through the streets of New Orleans, emulating the revelry they’d observed while visiting Paris. Eventually, Louisiana made it a state holiday in 1875.

Fun facts about Mardi Gras

  • In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII added Mardi Gras to what we now call the Gregorian calendar.
  • Mardi Gras is also called Shrove Tuesday.
  • The purple, gold and green Mardi Gras beads symbolize justice (purple), power (gold) and faith (green).
  • It is illegal to ride on a Mardi Gras parade float in New Orleans without wearing a mask.