What Is Fat Tuesday?

Lynne Mitchell/iStock via Getty Images
Lynne Mitchell/iStock via Getty Images / Lynne Mitchell/iStock via Getty Images

It goes by many titles, but the most general name for the day before Lent in the U.S. is Fat Tuesday. Even if you know the stories behind Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, and other the holy days Catholics observe during the Lenten season, the meaning of Fat Tuesday may be more mysterious. Before celebrating Fat Tuesday on March 1, 2022, take some time to learn about the origins and significance of the holiday.

Lent is a time of fasting and abstinence in Catholicism (and some other Christian denominations). Though the Tuesday before Lent isn't an official holy day, it became an important opportunity for celebration in places with large Catholic populations. Revelers used the day to squeeze in some last-minute debauchery ahead of the 40 days leading up to Easter. This included feasting on rich foods, binging alcohol, and indulging in other sinful pleasures.

The Tuesday before Lent was an excuse to party, but it served a practical purpose as well. Come Ash Wednesday, some households would abstain from eating meat, dairy, and sweet treats. To avoid food waste, they took the night before as an occasion to clear their homes of any delicious perishable goods.

The name Fat Tuesday comes from the feasting aspect of the holiday. The foods typically eaten during the celebration vary around the world. There's Pancake Day in the UK, Faschnaut Day in German communities, and Paczki Day in the Polish tradition (both faschnaut and paczki mean "doughnut"). Meat is another common food served on Fat Tuesday. Carnival, a name for pre-lenten festivals around the world, comes from a Latin phrase meaning “to remove meat." The one thing connecting all the items on the menu is their indulgent (i.e. "fat") reputation. Even New Orleans's famous Mardi Gras party references food in its name, which is French for "Fat Tuesday."

You don't necessarily need to throw a bacchanalian feast to do Fat Tuesday right. Eating a doughnut, King Cake, or some other type of treat is a simple way to get in the spirit of the day. If you're preparing for a more involved celebration, here are some facts about Mardi Gras you should know.