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Mardi Gras for Beginners

An Intro to the World's Biggest Party

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Green and yellow sign for Mardi gras with masks of comedy and drama
Mary Kate Denny/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Why Mardi Gras?

Mardi Gras. How to explain the world's biggest party? If you were born in New Orleans it's just the way things are. It's in your bones and you can't imagine living anywhere that doesn't celebrate Mardi Gras. In fact, ask any native and they'll tell you the exact moment when they discovered Mardi Gras was not a national celebration. For all of us, it was our first big reality check.

But, if you're a visitor, you need some explanation and guidance. So, to begin, Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday. It is always celebrated the day before Ash Wednesday so the date changes every year. Future Mardi Gras Dates.

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, and for New Orleans' Catholics that means sacrifice. So, Mardi Gras is a last bash before Lent. But, this is New Orleans, and one day of partying is simply not enough. Technically the season of Mardi Gras, called Carnival, begins on January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany.

View Mardi Gras pics (pictures of Mardi Gras)

Mardi Gras Parade Schedule.

Get tickets for the viewing stands and make it easy.

So, lesson Number One: Carnival is the season, Mardi Gras is the day.

The Carnival Season:

On January 6th, the Carnival season begins with balls, which are elaborate, by invitation only, formal tableaus in which the royalty of the individual group or "krewe" is presented. Then, about two weeks before Mardi Gras day, the parades begin.

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