Fat Tuesday is that the ancient name for the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in the Western Christian churches, together with the Roman Catholic Church and Protestant churches. (Clean Monday is the initial day of Lent in the eastern Catholic and eastern Orthodox Churches.) Fat Tuesday is more commonly referred to as Mardi gras that is just Fat Tuesday in French.
A Day of Preparation
Historically, the day before Ash Wednesday was itself a rather solemn day of preparation for the penitential season of Lent. Many Christians took part in the sacrament of Confession on that day that is why it became referred to as Shrove Tuesday. (Shrove is the past tense of the word shrive, that refers to a priest hearing a confession, assigning penance, and forgiving the sins of the penitent.)
The Origin of the Term
Over time, however, the solemn nature of the day was joined with (and later gave method to) one last feast before the Lenten quick. In centuries past, the Lenten quick was way more rigorous than it’s today, and Christians were needed to abstain from all meat and food that came from animals, like milk, cheese, butter, eggs, and animal fats. However all of these things required to be used up before the fast began, and various Christian nations developed their own meat dishes, rich breads, and desserts for one last feast before the austerity of Lent. And therefore the day became referred to as “Fat Tuesday” for obvious reasons.
Anticipating the joy of Easter
After fat Tuesday, meat and dairy and eggs would all be preserved in numerous ways in which, and brought out once more for the Easter feast (which lasted a full eight days, from Easter Day through the Sunday after Easter, best-known today as Divine Mercy Sunday). Thus the voluntary giving up of foods that are good in themselves to focus on spiritual growth was both preceded and followed by the recognition of the nice things that God has given us.
When Is Fat Tuesday?
Since Ash Wednesday always falls forty six days before Easter Sunday, fat Tuesday falls on the forty seventh day before Easter. (See the forty Days of Lent and how is the Date of Easter Calculated?) The earliest date that Fat Tuesday can fall is February 3; the most recent is March 9.
Since fat Tuesday is the same day as Mardi gras, you’ll notice the date of fat Tuesday in this and future years in when Is Mardi Gras?
As mentioned above, fat Tuesday was originally referred to as Shrove Tuesday, and in French it’s referred to as Mardi gras. Among the English-speaking peoples of Great Britain and her colonies, Fat Tuesday is usually referred to as Pancake Day, because they used up their dairy and eggs by making pancakes and similar pastries. Likewise, Fat Tuesday is known as Paczki Day, after the rich, jelly-filled donuts made by Poles in Poland and the United States.
The period from the last Sunday before Lent through Fat Tuesday is known as Shrovetide (and, today, the term Mardi gras is commonly applied to the whole period of Shrovetide). In the Mediterranean countries (where the languages are derived Latin), Shrovetide is additionally referred to as Carnival—that is, “goodbye to meat” (from carne, meat, and vale, farewell).