Mardi Gras (also known as Fat Tuesday, Carnival, or Shrove Tuesday (yes, those are all the same!)) is always held the day before Ash Wednesday. The exact date changes, depending on when Easter is, but in 2012, it’s on February 21.
Many cities have huge traditions surrounding Mardi Gras (and I don’t just mean New Orleans), but they all rose from a very simple religious festival. The next day is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, which focuses on self-denial, prayer, and fasting as we approach Good Friday, the day of the Crucifixion, and Easter, the day of Resurrection.
As a result, traditional holds that everyone should use up all of their eggs, butter, and milk in huge king cakes, pancakes, paczkis, crullers, semla, and many other traditional recipes. These sweet dishes are then eaten at huge parties, parades, masquerades, or balls. The original purpose was for all these ingredients to be cleaned from the house to prevent temptation during the serious season of Lent.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
Philippians 4:4 & 5
I suspected most of us are familiar with the king cake (after growing up in the South, I certainly am), but now I’ve learned about the traditional Polish dish, common in several northern states: paczki (pronounced punch-key). These “donuts” are rather overwhelming – filled with sugar, butter, and eggs, before they are fried and dusted in sugar – but, as everyone says, it’s only once a year. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can find a recipe here.