When Is Mardi Gras? History & Traditions

Mardi Gras is Tuesday, February 21, 2023. Learn more about the traditions behind this festival of fun, and watch a King Cake being made! (VIDEO)

“Mardi Gras,” French for “Fat Tuesday,” is the last day before Lent, the season of fasting and prayer observed by most Christian denominations in the forty days leading up to Easter. A time for carefree celebration, Mardi Gras traditionally served to balance out the solemnity of the days that follow. This year Mardi Gras falls on Tuesday, February 21, 2023.

Mardi Gras is the final day of Carnival, which began on January 6, twelve days after Christmas. While Mardis Gras celebration in the United States is nearly synonymous with New Orleans, the first Mardi Gras celebration was in the tiny settlement of Fort Louis de la Mobile (in now Alabama) in 1703. According to Mardi Gras – New Orleans, by the 1730s, Mardi Gras was celebrated openly in New Orleans, but not with the parades we are familiar with today.

Who Celebrates Mardi Gras?

Many other cities around the world are also noted for their Carnival celebrations, including Venice, Italy, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Mardis Gras is known by many different names around the world, including Shrove Tuesday in the United Kingdom, and among many North Americans of British descent; Paçzki Day among Polish immigrant communities; and Fasnacht Day in areas with large German-immigrant populations, such as Pennsylvania Dutch Country.

The Foods of Mardi Gras

In addition to parades and parties, many Mardis Gras traditions involve special foods. The most common of those in this country is the eating of pancakes, doughnuts (paçzki), or other sweet pastries. The reason for such traditions is that only the simple foods are supposed to be eaten during Lent, and rich ingredients such as eggs, milk, and sugar must be used up of before the fast begins. Pancakes and doughnuts were seen as an easy way to up perishable goods so they wouldn’t spoil.

While the tradition of eating rich foods on Shrove Tuesday is widespread throughout Europe, it is most strongly associated with the United Kingdom, where Shrove Tuesday is commonly referred to as “Pancake Day.”

If Not Pancakes, How About King Cakes?

Mardi Gras celebrations also include a King Cake, also known as Twelfth Night Cake. The cake itself is sweetened yeast bread that is usually baked in a ring shape. The cake is frosted with the traditional colors of Mardi Gras — Purple (symbolic of justice); Green (symbolic of faith); and Gold (symbolic of power). While this cake tastes delicious, the real treat is what’s inside the cake!

Bakers of each cake hide a special token within the cake. The token can be a dried bean, a baby figurine, which is supposed to represent the Christ Child or others. The lucky finder of the hidden surprise is supposed to enjoy good luck for the coming year and is sometimes expected to bake the cake next Mardi Gras.

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Jaime McLeod

Jaime McLeod is a longtime journalist who has written for a wide variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites, including MTV.com. She enjoys the outdoors, growing and eating organic food, and is interested in all aspects of natural wellness.


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Alma Arseneault

What a beautiful explanation of Shrove tuesday. I love your positive articles especially this one. Looking forward to more, especially Ash Wednesday including Lent. These are such special time for the readers that devote their time to follow these worthwhile traditions. I love you Farmers Almanac.

Susan Higgins

Thank you, Alma. We appreciate your comments. You can read about Easter here


The first organized Mardi Gras parade was held in Mobile, Alabama. The key word is organized, which makes it the official original Mardi Gras celebration held in 1703. It moved to what is now New Orleans after that in the 1800s. However, Mobile is the original home of Mardi Gras celebrations.

barbara ann cornelius

I am so glad that I decided to read full article. Very , very interesting info ,,I have not heard before. Thank you and Farmer’s Almanac.

Dale Sconiers

I enjoyed reading this, Thanks for sharing.


For all those talking dates and history check your facts. March 3, 1699 and here’s a hint…First US Mardi Gras….NOT in Mobile.


I was invited to Mobile a few years back for Mardi Grad.I had never been to a ball before. We stayed at the Plaza Hotel. Navy ships from NATO nations were in port. We met interesting sailors from around the world. Although I didn’t see the parade, it was a fabulous celebration. So glad my nephew lives there so I have two reasons to visit!

Henry Freeman

With all the media today, don’t know why Mobile Alabama, can’t get no respect with Mardi Gras, smh,news flash, it didn’t start in New Orleans.

Henry Freeman

I am suprise,that the US is so backwards,when it comes to the history of mardi gras,and why the media won’t give Mobile Alabama it’s due Props.smh


I liked this little article popping up on my newsfeed so thnx Jamie.
I think you just wrote within the context of not too many words and a certain coverage of the main facts regarding your subject matter.


Mardi Gras originated in Mobile, Alabama. Mobile was seperated from Louisiana when they created it. Louisiana just adopted Mobile’s holiday.


Mardi Gras originated in Mobile, Al. Most people think New Orleans is where the festival originated. Moon pies are the traditional treat of Mardi Gras in Mobile.

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