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Mardi Gras

[ mahr-dee -grah, grah ]
/ ˈmɑr di ˌgrɑ, ˈgrɑ /
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noun

the day before Lent, celebrated in some cities, as New Orleans and Paris, as a day of carnival and merrymaking; Shrove Tuesday.
a pre-Lenten carnival period climaxing on this day.

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Origin of Mardi Gras

First recorded in 1690–1700; from French: literally, “fat Tuesday”
Just about everyone knows that Mardi Gras, “fat Tuesday” in French, is closely associated with the gaudy blowout in New Orleans, Mardi Gras being the day before Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent, the 40 days of prayer, fasting, and all-night partying that is so typical of New Orleans.
The day is so named from the French custom of parading a fat ox ( bœuf gras ) during the celebration of the holiday (one wonders what became of the ox). French Mardi comes from the Latin phrase Martis diēs “Mars’s day,” so named after Mars, the planet and deity of the third day of the week according to Hellenistic astrology. Gras is problematical: it ultimately derives from Latin crassus “thick, stout, plump,” and one would therefore expect cras, but French has gras, Italian grasso, Spanish and Portuguese graso, all showing g-, not c-.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

VOCAB BUILDER

What is Mardi Gras?

Mardi Gras is the last day before Lent—the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. It is sometimes called Fat Tuesday, which is what its name means in French.

The term Mardi Gras also refers to the festival that takes place on this day and in the days (or even weeks) leading up to it. This festival is especially associated with the U.S. city of New Orleans, where it is prominently celebrated. In other places, this festival is called carnival.

Lent is the season of fasting and penitence that precedes Easter in some branches of Christianity. Mardi Gras is part of a tradition of indulging before the Lenten fast, but it is not a Christian holiday.

When is Mardi Gras?

Mardi Gras happens 47 days before Easter Sunday. (Lent is often considered a period of 40 days, but it actually consists of 40 weekdays.) Since Easter Sunday moves every year, Mardi Gras can fall between February 3 and March 9.

The date for Mardi Gras in 2021 is February 16. Mardi Gras 2022 will fall on March 3.

In some places, Mardi Gras celebrations start on the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6.

More information and context on Mardi Gras

Because Lent is a time of fasting and abstaining, the period leading up to it has become, for some, a time for indulging before the Lenten fast begins. This is reflected in different names for the day before Lent and the festivals associated with it, including Mardi Gras.

The first records of the term Mardi Gras come from the late 1600s. It is taken directly from French, in which it means “Fat Tuesday.” This is thought to be a reference to the French custom of parading a fat ox through the streets during the celebration of the holiday. However, it has become associated with the tradition of eating rich foods on this day to indulge before the fasting and abstaining of Lent begins for those who practice such things (though, in many cases, Mardi Gras is celebrated by non-Christians or those who do not observe Lent).

The origin of the word carnival is also a reference to the Lenten fast. It comes from the Old Italian carnelevare, meaning “a removing of meat.”

In some Christian traditions, the day before Ash Wednesday is called Shrove Tuesday, which is sometimes informally referred to as Pancake Day due to the tradition of eating pancakes on that day in order to use up rich foods like eggs and butter before Lent begins.

There are many traditions associated with the celebration of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, including certain foods and parades with lavishly decorated floats and flamboyant costumes.

What are some terms that often get used in discussing Mardi Gras?

How is Mardi Gras discussed in real life?

Mardi Gras is often associated with parties, parades, and other indulgences, especially in New Orleans, but celebrations vary from place to place and from person to person.

Try using Mardi Gras!

True or False?

Mardi Gras falls on the same day every year.

British Dictionary definitions for Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras
/ (ˈmɑːdɪ ˈɡrɑː) /

noun

the festival of Shrove Tuesday, celebrated in some cities with great revelry
French: fat Tuesday
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras
[ (mahr-dee grah) ]

An annual festival held in France on the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday” — meaning it is the last opportunity to eat rich food before the fast of Lent begins. It is related to celebrations elsewhere, called “carnivals,” from the Latin words carne and vale, “meat” and “farewell,” meaning a farewell to meat before the abstinence of Lent.

New Orleans, Louisiana, is famous for its Mardi Gras celebration, as is Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
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