Mardi Gras is a multi-week celebration that differs in length from year to year. It begins on January 6, which is the Feast of Epiphany or Twelfth Night, and lasts until midnight on Fat Tuesday. Fat Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday, which begins the celebration of Lent.
Fat Tuesday can fall on any Tuesday between Feb. 3 and March 9. The largest celebration of Mardi Gras occurs on Fat Tuesday, but the weeks leading up to it are filled with parades, performances and activities. Mardi Gras has its roots in medieval Europe and came to New Orleans, La. with the French explorers and colonizers of the area. By the 1730s, Mardi Gras was being celebrated in New Orleans with society balls.
About 100 years later, street processions with exotic floats and masked balls took place in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Newspapers began to announce the festivities in advance, and the festival grew in size and popularity. In 1872, the colors purple, green and gold were designated the Carnival's official colors, and the first daytime Mardi Gras parade took place. In 1875, the governor signed a law making Fat Tuesday a legal holiday in Louisiana, and it remains one as of 2014.