When is Mardi Gras 2020? Why is this day—also called Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday—celebrated? Read what The Old Farmer’s Almanac has to say about this festive holiday.
I think that I may say that an American has not seen the United States until he has seen Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
–Mark Twain, American writer (1835–1910)
When is Mardi Gras?
Mardi Gras takes place on the day before Ash Wednesday—the beginning of the Christian observance of Lent, which last about six weeks until just before Easter.
|2020||Tuesday, February 25|
|2021||Tuesday, February 16|
|2022||Tuesday, March 1|
|2023||Tuesday, February 21|
What is Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday?
Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday” and is the final feasting day before the Christian season of Lent, which begins on the day after Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday.
Fat Tuesday is also called Shrove Tuesday, a name that comes from the practice of “shriving”—purifying oneself through confession—prior to Lent.
For many Christians, Shrove Tuesday is a time to receive penance and absolution. It is the last day to finish up the eggs, milk, and fat that are forbidden during the 40-day Lenten fast, which begins the next day (Ash Wednesday) and ends on Holy Thursday (three days before Easter Sunday).
In England, where the event is also known as Pancake Tuesday, festivities include flapjack-related activities. The pancake race held by women in Olney, Buckinghamshire, dates back to 1445. Legend says that the idea started when a woman cooking pancakes lost track of the time. When she heard the church bells ring, she rushed out the door to attend the shriving service while still wearing her apron and holding a skillet containing a pancake.
In 1950, Liberal, Kansas, having seen photos of the English pancake race, challenged Olney to a competition: The International Pancake Day Race has been held annually ever since. The two towns run their own race, after which the scores are compared and the international champion announced. Each contestant, wearing a head scarf and apron, holds a pancake in a skillet while running a 415-yard course. She must flip the pancake at the beginning and end of the race, without dropping it.
Other cultures also cook up rich treats and fried foods, which was traditionally based on using up all the butter, flour, and fat in the house.
- Among the Pennsylvania Dutch, the Tuesday is called Fastnacht (fast night), and everyone enjoys the traditional fastnachtkuchen, a rectangular doughnut with a slit in the middle.
- In Polish communities, the Tuesday is called “Paczki Day,” after the puffy jelly-filled doughnuts traditionally enjoyed.
- In Sweden, the Tuesday is called semmeldagen, semlans dag, or fettisdagen. They enjoy a sweet cream bun called semla. Happy Semlans Dag!
- In Louisiana, the favorite treat is the beignet, a pillowy fried dough concoction. See photo below. Mmmm.
Beignets covered in powdered sugar
In countries with large Roman Catholic populations, Mardi Gras is also a day of revelry with festivals, parades, masked balls, and lavish dinners. In the United States, New Orleans is the most known for its Mardi Gras celebrations with marching bands, decorated floats, colorful costumes and masks, lots of beads, and King Cakes.
In the spirit of New Orleans, try cooking up some great Cajun food for Mardi Gras, such as this soul-warming Jambalaya.
Discover more about the history and traditions of this holiday on the City of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras Website.