ST. PETERSBURG, FL — The first day of March is Fat Tuesday, a day of indulgence and even debauchery before the beginning of Lent, a time of fasting and abstinence in Catholicism and some other Christian denominations.

Fat Tuesday is also the beginning of Mardi Gras, a centuries-old tradition celebrated by the French with elaborate masquerade balls and street parties from the feast of the Epiphany in early January until Ash Wednesday. St. Petersburg is celebrating Mardi Gras the New Orleans style with crawfish boils, craft beers and live music at several places Tuesday night.

Mardi Gras celebrations are a last opportunity to cut loose before the Lenten season begins with Ash Wednesday and other holy days through Good Friday and Easter on April 17. A list of places in St. Pete celebrating are listed at the bottom of the article.

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What Is Mardi Gras?

French explorers Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and Sieur de Bienville brought the tradition to America when they landed near present-day New Orleans on March 3, 1699. Realizing it was the eve of the festive holiday, they held a small celebration at the landing spot, which they christened as Point du Mardi Gras, according to

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A celebration in the tiny settlement of Fort Louis de la Mobile in 1703, and in New Orleans in 1718, according to a history on the Mardi Gras New Orleans website.

The rowdy New Orleans Mardi Gras were halted when the Spanish ruled the Big Easy from 1762 to 1800, and U.S. authorities did the same after taking control of the city in 1803 and outlawed both masked balls and public disguises. The bans were lifted when Louisiana became a state in 1812. Louisiana is the only state to make Mardi Gras a legal holiday.

Is Fat Tuesday Different?

Fat Tuesday is the English translation of Mardi Gras from French. It’s so named as a nod to the lavish feasts that were prepared to eat — rather than waste — foods such as meats, eggs, dairy products, sweets and other foods that would be sacrificed during the holy Lenten season, the 40 days leading up to Easter.

Depending on where you live (and your palate), you may observe Fat Tuesday as Pancake Day, which originated in the United Kingdom; Faschnaut Day, a tradition in German communities; and Paczki Day in Polish enclaves. Both faschnaut and paczki translate to “doughnuts.”

King cakes are also eaten, though according to legend, these cakes frequently appear from the Epiphany on Jan. 6 through Fat Tuesday to mark the arrival of the three wise men to Bethlehem to deliver gifts to the newborn Jesus. A plastic baby is often hidden inside the cakes.

What Happens On Ash Wednesday?

In Roman Catholic churches, ashes are applied in the shape of a cross on the foreheads of the faithful. In many cases, they wear the crosses throughout the day to publicly profess their faith.

The ashes symbolize penance, mourning and mortality. Typically, the priest will apply the ashes while saying, “Remember you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”

The ashes are prepared by burning palm leaves from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration, which falls every year on the Sunday before Easter.

Other Christians observing Ash Wednesday include Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians and other Protestants. Some Baptists observe Ash Wednesday, but a majority of evangelical and Pentecostal Christians do not. Mormons also do not observe Ash Wednesday.

Lent Leads Up To Holy Week

In Western Christianity, the last week of Lent is known as Holy Week.

It begins on Palm Sunday, this year on April 10, the day commemorating Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. The path he traveled was covered in palm branches, and congregants in many churches are given palms to carry with them to Palm Sunday worship services.

Here are other important dates to know:

April 14: Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday, commemorating the Last Supper, the final meal Jesus shared with his disciples.

April 15: Good Friday observes Christ’s crucifixion. In some churches, purple or black cloths are placed over religious objects. Some Christians fast, eating only one substantial meal.

April 17: Lent ends with Easter, which commemorates Christ’s resurrection, and white cloths replace the darker cloths shrouding religious objects. Celebrations are joyous, a contrast to the somber observance of Lent.

Where In St. Pete To Celebrate Fat Tuesday

  • Annual Fat Tuesday Crawfish Boil, 3 Daughters Brewing, 222 22nd St. S., St. Petersburg, Tuesday, 6-9 p.m.
  • Mardi Gras at The Galley, 27 Fourth Street N., St. Petersburg, Tuesday, all day
  • Mardi Gras, Caddy’s Treasure Island, 9000 W. Gulf Blvd., Treasure Island, Tuesday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
  • Fusion Resort Mardi Gras on the Rooftop, 290 107th Ave., Treasure Island, Friday, 7-10 p.m.

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