Mardi Gras Day is celebrated with a public holiday in Alabama and Louisiana the day before the Christian season of Lent begins, and its festive atmosphere deliberately contrasts with the sombre mood of the following 40 days.
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Mardi Gras is a huge celebration each year in much of Southern Europe, the Caribbean, South America, and elsewhere where strong Roman Catholic traditions prevail. In the US, Mardis Gras was first introduced to the Gulf Coast region by the French when the area was part of French Louisiana. The traditions persisted after the transfer of the territory to US control.
Today, New Orleans is the center of US Mardi Gras tradition and festivity, with huge costumed parades and long-running “wild” parties in the streets of the French Quarter this time of year. But Mobile, Alabama; Pensacola, Florida; Galveston, Texas, and other areas along the Gulf Coast with a strong French heritage also have longstanding Mardi Gras traditions. In fact, Mobile is where the first Mardi Gras celebration took place in 1703.
Saint Louis, Missouri, now holds the second-largest Mardi Gras events in the US, but the celebrations only date from the 1980’s, even though the city of Saint Louis was founded by the French.
The date of Mardi Gras Day varies somewhat from year to year, ranging from around 10 February to 5 March. Also known as “Shrove Tuesday,” Mardi Gras falls on the last day before the traditional 40-day fast of Lent, the first day of which is known as “Ash Wednesday.”
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