Fat Tuesday is your last hurrah, folks, so let the carbo loading begin. Fat Tuesday will give way to a more solemn occasion -- Ash Wednesday -- and then a 40-day period of self-sacrifice known as Lent.
Fat Tuesday, the English translation of the French "Mardi Gras," signals the official end of Carnival season, billed as a hedonistic frenzy of food, booze, parades, masked celebrations and things that can't be printed in a family newspaper.
Fat Tuesday is kind of like a hangover helper -- and a way to get ready for what lies ahead.
The day is marked by one final food frenzy, much of it revolving around carbohydrates such as pancakes and deep-fried delights such as doughnuts. Why? Some say the tradition dates back to a time when refrigeration was non-existent and all the goodies in the home had to be eaten because they wouldn't survive Lent. (They would probably also be an unnecessary temptation.)
The food frenzy also offers a final opportunity to indulge in rich, fatty favorites before Ash Wednesday and Lent.
Pancakes are favored because they make good use of perishables such as eggs. In Britain, contestants in pancake races run a foot race while flipping a pancake in a skillet.
For Catholics and other Christians, Ash Wednesday symbolizes the start of the 40 days Jesus spent praying and fasting in the desert, resisting temptation, before his crucifixion.
The period ends with the most significant day on the Christian calendar: Easter.
On Ash Wednesday, many Christians wear a cross on their foreheads made of ashes, a sign that the bearer is in the process of renewing and rededicating his or her faith, according to American Catholic's online site.