While today may be associated with drinking, stripping and bead-gathering in New Orleans’ French Quarter, the celebration of Mardi Gras dates back thousands of years.

The first formal American Mardi Gras celebration supposedly occurred not in New Orleans, nor even Louisiana, but in Mobile, in what became the state of Alabama, having but started by a Frenchman in 1703.

Mardi Gras is believed to have its roots in ancient pagan celebrations of spring and fertility. However, some feel that those origins also started as a Christian celebration.

Regardless of its origin, the celebration started in Rome by Christians as a beginning to the 40 days of penance and sacrifice during Lent. Mardi Gras always occurs the day before Ash Wednesday, which begins the Lent season leading up to Easter.

The tradition back in the day was fasting and abstaining during Lent. People would bring  meat, eggs and dairy, along with alcohol, the day before for a big celebration.

It is not hard to see how it gained the name “Carnival.” It is also easy to see why, when the festival arrived in France, it became known as Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday.”

Some even refer to the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent in the Roman Catholic Church, (and those Protestant churches that observe Lent) as Shrove Tuesday. In the English-speaking countries, Shrove Tuesday became known as Pancake Day, because Christians used up their eggs, butter, and milk to make pancakes and other pastries.