(Printed from: www.catholic.org/lent/mardigras.php)
Mardi Gras is strongly associated with wild bacchanalia and debauchery, but the original intent of the holiday and how it’s kept by the faithful is much different. Fat Tuesday, as it is known in English, is a long-standing tradition of the Catholic Church and it marks the last day of ordinary time before the start of Lent, a time of fasting and repentance. While the parties in Europe, South America, and parts of the United States have gained the most attention in popular culture, they seriously misrepresent and outright eclipse the Catholic intent of the holiday.
According to historians, the celebration of Mardi Gras has its roots in the pagan Roman celebration of Lupercalia. This was a February holiday and it honored the Roman god of fertility. It involved feasting, drinking, and carnal behavior.
However, with the rise of the Church in ancient Rome, Christian teaching and morals took root, but there always remained a strong need to blend ancient Roman traditional practices with the growing Christian faith. The blending of tradition with new religious beliefs was a common practice in the ancient world and it helped people to transition away from paganism. In fact, there are a number of ancient Roman traditions that persevere in the Roman Catholic Church to this day, where they continue to guide the faithful.
However, in the late 18th century, the Spanish took control of New Orleans and having a more militant and serious perspective on the faith, they imposed significant restrictions on the holiday revelry. Among them, they banned masked balls. However, by 1823, this ban was lifted and parades returned by 1837. At this point, the celebration began to lose its identity as an exclusively Catholic tradition and became more secularized over the centuries.