Mardi Gras is a French term which translates to “Fat Tuesday” in English. The festival typically falls on the last day of the carnival season and that is of course, the day previous to Ash Wednesday or the first day of Lent. Although we celebrate only the day before Ash Wednesday now, Mardi Gras actually starts right from the day of Epiphany (or from the day just after it). In the year 2011, Mardi Gras was on the 8th of March, which was as always, a Tuesday. Next year that is in 2012 the last day of Mardi Gras has fallen on the 21st of February.
There is a reason why Mardi Gras is called Fat Tuesday; on this night, people celebrate with feasts rich in fatty, oily and tasty food and drinks of all kinds as this day is the last day that the people are traditionally allowed to do so because from the next day begins the Lenten season, marked by frequent and often long fasting rituals. Feasting and celebrating is what Mardi Gras is all about, so people dress up in costumes, wear masks, compete in events and dance together on social gatherings. Parades are also an integral part of the Mardi Gras celebrations and thus streets are often filled with such parades on this day.
The entire season of Carnival is even more popular in the European nations, especially the Catholic nations there. The Irish and the English call the entire week before Ash Wednesday, “Shrovetide” and what is called Fat Tuesday in the USA or Canada, it is known as “Shrove Tuesday” here. Although the basic theme of celebrating Mardi Gras with feasts, costumes and dances also the same here, but each country has something unique to their own traditions. Pancakes are the order of the day on Mardi Gras in England and Ireland especially. As the name itself suggests, Mardi Gras is originally a French Catholic festival but it is still celebrated in the US, thanks to the Le Moyne brothers who brought it here, but the intensity of the festive mood varies from place to place.