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Shrove Tuesday a.k.a. Pancake Day, Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, and Carnivale

Shrove Tuesday a.k.a. Pancake Day, Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, and Carnivale

Ever wonder how one holiday came to be known by so many names? 

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. In the early days of Christianity, Lent was the penitential period before Easter when Christians practiced fasting and abstinence. The three-day period before the start of Lent was used to confess or “to shrive” one’s sins and receive absolution. It was known as Shrovetide.

Christians abstained from all meat and items that came from animals, including milk, butter, eggs, cheese, and fat. Shrovetide in Latin-derived languages is also known as Carnivale, ‘farewell to meat.’

The best was to use up any of these forbidden items before Lent was to make pancakes. That is why Shrove Tuesday is also known as Pancake Day.  In France, it was called Fat Tuesday because they ate up all the fat in the house.  Fat Tuesday in French is Mardi Gras. Another version of the story says the name Fat Tuesday comes from the custom of parading a fat ox through the streets of Paris on Shrove Tuesday.

When is Shrove Tuesday?

It is observed the day before Ash Wednesday, which is 46 days before Easter Sunday, which is the first Sunday after the first ecclesiastical full moon that occurs on or after the vernal equinox (first day of spring). It can fall anywhere between February 3 and March 9.  If you are like me, you just look it up on the calendar to see where ‘the powers that be’ put it.  In 2017, it is on February 28.

Origins of Mardi Gras in the United States

By most accounts, French-Canadian explorer Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville arrived 60 miles directly south of where New Orleans would be on March 2, 1699.   When his men realized it was the night before Mardi Gras, they named it “Pointe du Mardi Gras.” In 1702 he founded “Fort Louis de la Louisiane” (now Mobile). The following year the new settlement celebrated America’s very first Mardi Gras.

Secret societies held the early Mardi Gras celebrations. Bienville established New Orleans in 1718. By the 1730s, Mardi Gras was celebrated openly in New Orleans.  In the early 1740s, the Louisiana governor started elegant society balls. In the 1830s parades started and became more elaborate over the years.  The first reference to “throws” dates back to 1870.

In 1872 a Russian Grand Duke visited New Orleans, and a group of businessmen created a King of Carnival, Rex. They adopted the Duke’s family colors of purple, green, and gold as the official colors of Mardi Gras.  The anthem, “If Ever I Cease to Love” was adopted, you guessed it because it was the Duke’s favorite song.

I barely skimmed over the history. To get a complete history of the history of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, visit


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