Mardi Gras, also called Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, and even Pancake Tuesday, is the day before Ash Wednesday, the day that marks the beginning of the Christian season of Lent. It is scheduled to occur 46 days before Easter, otherwise known as Resurrection Sunday. Since the date of Resurrection Sunday varies from year to year, Mardi Gras can occur on any Tuesday from February 3 to March 9.
Because the Catholic Church forbids the eating of meat and meat products every Friday during Lent, and because Catholics are required to fast on Ash Wednesday, it became common to make Mardi Gras a day of feasting and celebration. Historically, however, the day was known as Shrove Tuesday because it was set aside for a sacramental confession of one's sins, hence the penitent was said to have been "shriven," or absolved, of his sins. "Shrove Tuesday" remains the term used on the church calendar. The phrase "Fat Tuesday" was coined to reflect the fact that those about to give up a vice for Lent would often overindulge on that vice the day before giving it up (e.g., those who were giving up fat would gorge themselves on fat). Obviously, there is no theological basis for this practice.
Mardi Gras is the French term for Fat Tuesday, and the holiday was brought to the United States by the French. The very first Mardi Gras celebration was believed to have been observed in 1703 in Mobile, Alabama. However New Orleans, Louisiana is the city most associated with Mardi Gras. In New Orleans it is an official holiday, and has been an event for two centuries, except during the two World Wars. Every year, residents and guests stage elaborate and boisterous parades and balls.