When is Mardi Gras? Key Dates and Celebrations Explained

GTS Productions / Shutterstock.com

Mardi Gras, often referred to as Fat Tuesday, is a vibrant cultural celebration marking the final day before the Christian season of Lent begins. Characterized by parades, masquerades, and indulgent feasting, Mardi Gras is deeply rooted in historical traditions that blend religious observances and pagan festivals. The date of Mardi Gras is not fixed; it varies each year because it is dependent on the date of Easter. It always falls the day before Ash Wednesday, which is 47 days before Easter Sunday.

The festivities are best known in the context of New Orleans, but they are celebrated worldwide. Mardi Gras signifies the last opportunity for revelry and consumption of rich, fatty foods before the fasting period of Lent. In 2024, Mardi Gras was celebrated on Tuesday, February 13. This day, colorful and packed with festivities, signals the climax of the Carnival season, a series of events that starts on King’s Day (January 6).

Marking the culmination of the Carnival season, Mardi Gras brims with cultural significance and is awaited with anticipation by people around the globe. From street parades in New Orleans complete with brass bands and elaborate floats to masquerade balls and family gatherings, Mardi Gras encourages a final bout of festivity before the contemplative Lenten period of reflection and penance.

What Is Mardi Gras?

Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday, is the final day of a festive season called Carnival, which precedes the start of the liturgical season of Lent in Christian traditions. This day is characterized by exuberant celebration and indulgence in rich, fatty foods before the fasting period of Lent begins on the following day, Ash Wednesday.


  • Parades: Cities famous for Mardi Gras celebrations, like New Orleans, host colorful parades featuring floats, marching bands, and people dressed in vibrant costumes.
  • Masks and Beads: Attendees often wear masks and costume jewelry. Beads are thrown from parade floats into crowds as part of the tradition.
  • King Cakes: A special cake with a hidden figurine inside, symbolizing the three kings, is a common treat.

When It Occurs:

Mardi Gras can fall on any Tuesday between February 3 and March 9, depending on the date of Easter. It is always the day before Ash Wednesday, which is 46 days before Easter.


Mardi Gras serves as a joyous occasion that brings people together for one last celebration of food and fun before the somber and reflective Lenten season. Cities with notable Mardi Gras celebrations turn into hubs of activity and excitement during this time, providing a boost to local culture and economy.

Mardi Gras 2024 Date

Mardi Gras is traditionally held the day before Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the Christian season of Lent. In 2024, Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday, falls on February 13.

The date of Mardi Gras can vary each year since it is connected to the movable date of Easter. Easter Sunday is determined by the lunar calendar and is celebrated on the first Sunday following the full moon that occurs on or after the spring equinox. Mardi Gras, therefore, can occur on any Tuesday between February 3 and March 9.

Here’s how the date is calculated:

  • Easter Sunday: Based on the full moon and spring equinox.
  • Ash Wednesday: 46 days before Easter Sunday (Lent begins).
  • Mardi Gras: The day before Ash Wednesday.

Following this pattern, revelers enjoy Mardi Gras festivities leading up to Lent, which is a period of 40 days of fasting and reflection in the Christian faith, excluding Sundays.

For those planning to join the celebrations in New Orleans, they can expect parades and events that kick off weeks in advance, starting on January 6, also known as the Epiphany or King’s Day, which marks the official start of the Carnival season. Mardi Gras day itself is the culmination of these vibrant festivities marked by parades, masquerade balls, and street parties.

Historical Background

The origins of Mardi Gras can be traced back to medieval Europe, winding through Rome and Venice in the 17th to 19th centuries, and eventually to the French House of the Bourbons. Imbued with rich traditions, it is a pre-Lenten celebration with roots in pagan spring and fertility rites.

Notably, the first American Mardi Gras occurred on March 3, 1699. It was French explorers Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and Sieur de Bienville who marked the occasion near what is now known as New Orleans, Louisiana.

Essentially, Mardi Gras represents the last day for Catholics to indulge before Ash Wednesday starts the sober weeks of fasting associated with Lent. The name itself, Mardi Gras, translates to “Fat Tuesday” in French, noting the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting.

The festivities vary worldwide, but they commonly involve parades, masquerades, and the consumption of various traditional foods. In countries like the United States, especially in New Orleans, Mardi Gras has become synonymous with week-long festivities, showcasing vibrant parades and colorful beads.

Key MomentsDescription
European TraditionsMedieval roots in pagan celebrations.
First American EventMarch 3, 1699, by French explorers.
Name Meaning“Fat Tuesday,” the feast before the fast.
New Orleans SceneKnown for parades, beads, and festivities.

Throughout the years, Mardi Gras has remained a beloved time of celebration, connecting the past’s historical customs to today’s festive carnivals.

Cultural Significance

The revelry of Mardi Gras is more than just beads and parades; it’s steeped in deep religious tradition and celebrated with zeal around the globe.

Religious Connections

Originally rooted in Christian tradition, Mardi Gras is observed as the final day of indulgence before the Lenten season of fasting and penitence begins. This day, also known as Fat Tuesday, signifies the ritual consumption of richer, fatty foods before Ash Wednesday.

Global Celebrations

Different countries have their own unique spins on Mardi Gras:

  • New Orleans: Famous for its vibrant parades, flamboyant costumes, and the iconic king cake.
  • Brazil: Known as Carnaval, it features massive street parties and samba parades.
  • Venice: Hosts the Venetian Carnevale, distinguished by its elegant masks and elaborate balls.

Each place intertwines local customs with the festival’s broader religious and cultural roots.

Traditions and Customs

Mardi Gras is rich in traditions and customs that vary from parades to distinct confections. Here’s what to look out for.


The parades during Mardi Gras are perhaps the most visible tradition. Krewes, or social clubs, are behind these extravagant processions, each with its own history and style. Floats, bands, and dancers make their way through the streets, creating a vibrant spectacle.

Masks and Costumes

Masks and costumes are central to Mardi Gras celebrations, allowing everyone to shed their identities for a day. Participants often don elaborate, often handmade attire that is both a nod to history and a display of creativity.

King Cakes

A delicious tradition is the King Cake, a ring-shaped dessert that is as colorful as it is tasty. Hidden inside is a small figurine, and tradition states that the person who finds it is “king” for the day—and is also tasked with buying the next cake or hosting the next party.

Beads and Throws

Beads, coins, and small toys, known as throws, are tossed to the crowd from parade participants. These souvenirs are often caught or collected eagerly by attendees, with the most sought-after throws being the ones from the most prestigious krewes.

Planning for Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras is an epic carnival filled with vibrant parades and festive events. For a smooth experience, one needs a solid plan covering schedules, travel, and lodging.

Events Schedule

Mardi Gras 2024 in New Orleans is a bustling season of back-to-back parades and parties. Tuesday, February 13, is the peak with Fat Tuesday. Notable parades include:

  • Krewe de Vieux: January 27, 6:30 p.m., French Quarter
  • Krewe of Bilge: January 27, Noon, Slidell
  • Krewe of Poseidon: January 27, 6 p.m., Slidell

Travel Tips

Navigating New Orleans during Mardi Gras can be challenging. Visitors should:

  • Book transport early: Whether it’s flights, car rentals, or airport shuttles, options get scarce.
  • Public transportation: Rely on the streetcars and buses to avoid parking woes.


Securing a place to stay is a top priority. They should:

  • Book early: Hotels and rentals fill up months in advance.
  • Location matters: Staying near the French Quarter or the parade routes can save on transportation.


Leave a Comment