Mardi Gras 2024: When is it celebrated and why?

Observed in many nations of the world, Mardi Gras marks the beginning of Lent  (Ben Stevens / PinPep)
Observed in many nations of the world, Mardi Gras marks the beginning of Lent (Ben Stevens / PinPep)

Mardi Gras is a well-known Christian festival that originated from pagan spring and fertility ceremonies thousands of years ago.

The day before the start of the holy season of Lent, it is observed in many nations around the world, particularly in those with sizable Roman Catholic populations, and is sometimes referred to as Carnival or Carnaval.

Some of the most well-known public celebrations of the event are held in Brazil, Venice, and New Orleans, bringing tens of thousands of tourists and revellers each year.

Why is it called Mardi Gras?

Tuesday in French is mardi, while gras is French for “fat”. The day before Ash Wednesday became known as Mardi Gras or “Fat Tuesday” in France.

In Britain, the day is also known as Pancake Day or Shrove Tuesday.

This is because, in the days before Lent, people would typically gorge on all the rich, fatty foods—meat, eggs, milk, lard, and cheese—that were still in cupboards and refrigerators, in preparation for three weeks of eating only fish and engaging in various forms of fasting or denial.

When is Mardi Gras?

Mardi Gras 2024 will fall on February 13.

Mardi Gras is celebrated every year and is a movable feast that can occur in either February or March, depending on the date Ash Wednesday falls on.

Why is it celebrated?

Mardi Gras marks the close of the pre-Lenten season.

Also known as Shrove Tuesday, a name that comes from the practice of “shriving” — purifying oneself through confession — prior to Lent. For many Christians, Shrove Tuesday is a time to receive penance and absolution.

In New Orleans, Mardi Gras is celebrated through street processions, with the first one taking place in 1837. The city is most known for its lavish celebrations, which include exotic parades, glittering floats, masked balls, and feasting.

How is it celebrated around the world?

Different places have different Mardi Gras traditions.

Venice, for example, celebrates Carnival season with elaborate disguises, and is home to some of the holiday’s most famous costumes. One popular costume is the bauta, a mask that covers the whole face with no opening for the mouth. Other people dress as a plague doctor, wearing the same beaked mask that doctors wore to treat plague patients in the 17th century.

In southern American states, such as Louisiana and Mississippi, communities gather to eat the “King cake”. The cake traditionally contains a tiny plastic or porcelain baby figurine, and tradition calls on whoever finds the trinket in their slice of cake to host the next King cake party.

In rural Louisiana, people gather on Fat Tuesday for the annual Courir de Mardi Gras, a Cajun tradition that includes a costumed race and attempts to climb a greased pole to be the first to catch a chicken perched at the top.

In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, streets are filled with parades, dancing, costumes, and balls the weekend before the holiday.