'Mardi Gras' means 'Fat Tuesday'. Traditionally, it is the last day for Catholics to indulge before Ash Wednesday starts the sober weeks of fasting that come with Lent. Formally known as Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras has long been a time of extravagant fun for European Christians. The date can fall between February 3 and March 9 depending on the Lunar calendar, used by the Catholic Church to determine the date of Easter. Mardi Gras is always 47 days before Easter Sunday.
In the United States, Mardi Gras draws millions of fun seekers to New Orleans every year. Mardi Gras has been celebrated in New Orleans on a grand scale, with masked balls and colorful parades, since French settlers arrived in the early 1700s. Hidden behind masks, people behaved so raucously that for decades in the early 19th century masks were deemed illegal.
Mardi Gras has long combined wild street activities open to everyone with events organized by private clubs known as krewes. Today, thousands of people belong to about 60 krewes that plan the parades and balls of New Orleans' Mardi Gras.
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