Mardi Gras, meaning “Fat Tuesday” in French, has its origins in medieval Europe.
What became a legal holiday in Louisiana in 1875 was once a Christian holiday with roots in ancient Rome.
Instead of outright abolishing certain pagan traditions, like the wild Roman festivals of Saturnalia and Lupercalia, religious leaders decided to incorporate them into the new faith.
What became known as the Carnival season was a kick-off to Lent, a sort of last hurrah before 40 days of penance sandwiched between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.
Eventually, the celebration spread from Rome across Europe to the colonies of the New World.
Since its early days in New Orleans in the early 18th century, Mardi Gras has grown to colossal proportions and includes several familiar traditions, like bead throwing, mask wearing and coconut painting, that are widely practiced today but whose origins may have been forgotten.
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