Today is Mardi Gras 2012,  or Fat Tuesday,  and its the final day of the festivities known as Carnival celebrated in predominately Catholic locations around the world, most famously in cities such as New Orleans and Rio de Jainaro.

New Orleans Celebrates Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras is also always a big festive occasion in Shreveport and surrounding areas and in Mobile, Alabama.

It's actually a state holiday in Louisiana, but not all schools are out in observance of Fat Tuesday.

After enjoying one parade after another,  the Mardi Gras season will end with the Texas Street Bridge Closing Ceremony tonight.

While best known for parties, costumes and beads, Mardi Gras has religious origins in the Catholic calendar as well as pre-Christian pagan celebrations.

The Latin root of the word Carnival is carne vale, which means more or less "farewell to meat" -- a reference to the upcoming 40 day fast of Lent that commences at midnight on Mardi Gras.

Fat Tuesday was named because it was a time of extravagant feasting of rich foods such as meat or pancakes before the upcoming fast. According the Catholic calendar, the season of Carnival  actually starts on the 12th day of Christmas, known as Epiphany.

Fat Tuesday is also know as Shrove Tuesday, a reference to "shriving" or confession which was meant to prepare Christians for the fast ahead. Some communities use Shrove Tuesday to burn palm fronds from the previous year's Palm Sunday to create the ashes that are used on the following day, Ash Wednesday.

fat tuesday

Ash Wednesday is the fist day of the season of penitance and fasting that leads to Good Friday and Easter. Ash Wednesday is a solemn observance when many Christians receive ashes on the foreheads and are reminded that "they are dust and to dust they shall return."

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