Today is Mardis Gras which is French for Fat Tuesday. Fat because it is the last day of feasting, revelry, and bacchanalia before the Lenten season which is a time of sacrifice, meditation, and atonement. It is also known as Shrove Tuesday. Shrove is a derivation of the word shrive which means "to confess." Some will spend today in confession with themselves or their clergyman confessing and contemplating their sins and short-comings and what they will do during Lent to amend their lives. Personally, I prefer revelry.
Whatever your denomination or lack thereof, everyone knows about the raucous celebration in New Orleans. Beads, cake, parades, public drunkenness, and outdoor urination. All of which, in my youth, seemed like a good time. (Except the outdoor urination. Eewww.) In Rio de Janiero and other Latin/Iberian countries it is called Carnival. It doesn't get anymore obvious than that.
The whole thing about today is to celebrate the last feasting and partying and good time for the six weeks leading up to Easter. It is to separate normal times from the next major important event. For Christians around the world, that event is the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ. People of the Jewish persuasion celebrate Passover at roughly the same time. In Islam there is the celebration of Isra' and Mi'raj the celebration of the Prophet Muhammad being raised into heaven.
Although it is today, this feast day, this party time, that is recognized most newsworthy, to me it is the next six weeks that is most important. Lent is difficult. Lent is reflection. Lent is getting right with yourself and your mindset. Even if you don't adhere to a particular belief, this is still a good time to reassess where you are and what you want to accomplish.
For me, I sacrifice meat. I go vegetarian during Lent. It's hard. I don't like vegetables. But, it makes me recognize my fortune at living where I do and having the life I have and to be grateful for it. It makes me be thoughtful and creative about what to eat and when to eat. It makes me more adventurous in the kitchen with flavors and spices. The daily sacrifice makes me aware of the sacrifices others have made for me. I gain too. I gain in that I typically lose weight and begin to feel better, lighter, more energetic.
So, tomorrow, I begin six meatless weeks. But that's when the really meaty stuff begins.