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Fat Tuesday is held the day before Ash Wednesday in the Christian/Catholic religion. This year Fat Tuesday is today, March 1. This day is also known as Mardi Gras in French and falls on the last day of the Carnival season which is famously celebrated in places like New Orleans, Louisiana and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

This holiday is most commonly celebrated by eating rich and fatty foods before the Lenten season begins. During Lent, people abstain from eating meat historically. However in modern times, people also choose to fast from something that is a sacrifice for themselves on a personal level, like coffee or desserts, over the 40 days of Lent. This is also a season of prayer and introspection in religious communities. Fat Tuesday is the one last hurrah.

Whether you are a Christian or not, these customs and celebrations have been adopted around the world. Looking to celebrate some traditions this Fat Tuesday? Here are some fun ways to celebrate and kick off the Lenten season.

1. King Cake

King Cake is a well-known Mardi Gras dessert that is eaten in the United States. Festivities taking place in New Orleans often include eating King Cake. If you are in Southeastern Wisconsin, don’t fret, you too can participate in this tradition.

So what is King Cake? It’s a combination of a French pastry and a coffee cake. The dessert is oval in shape and decorated with royal icing. The icing is often colored gold for power, purple for justice, and green for faith. The shape also represents the unity of all faiths. Inside a King Cake there is a miniature plastic baby which symbolizes the baby Jesus. It is placed inside of each cake to signify the Epiphany, when Jesus was revealed to the world. Other items have been known to be baked into these cakes as well, like coins, beans and more, however the main item is the baby.

When eating the cake, if you are lucky enough to cut into the slice that contains the baby figure, you will be known as the King. As tradition dictates, this person also is given the responsibility to bring the King Cake to the next year’s event. Local bakeries carry this cake. Otherwise, if you want to participate in this tradition, bake a cake yourself or with a loved one.

2. Pączki

You don’t have to be Polish to enjoy Pączki, (Pronounced POONCH-kee). These jelly-filled doughnuts are commonly found in Polish cuisine. Pączki are different than regular donuts. They are made of a very rich, sweet yeast dough which consists of eggs, butter or lard, and milk.

Why do people eat this sweet treat on Fat Tuesday? Long ago, people in Poland wanted to use up the rich ingredients they had before Lent. Ingredients like butter, sugar, lard and milk were off-limits during the Lenten season. They made things like Pączki to eat all of those ingredients that were still in their homes before Lent began. Now across Wisconsin, bakeries and grocery stores kick into high-fat gear and focus on making this tasty treat. If you are looking to order multiple donuts, order Pączki. However, if one donut is enough to satisfy your sweet tooth, order Pączek (Pronounced POON-Check).

3. Beads

Another tradition of Mardi Gras is the handing out of brightly colored beads and wearing them. The beads are often gold, green and purple; the same colors that are represented on a King Cake.

People often get beads when attending Mardi Gras parades. However, if you want your own beads, they can simply be purchased online or found in stores. Wear your beads on Fat Tuesday as a way to partake in the festivities.

4. Masks

Along with beads, another popular Mardi Gras tradition is wearing masks. According to Mardi Gras New Orleans, “Mardi Gras allowed wearers to escape society and class constraints. When wearing a mask, Carnival-goers were free to be whomever they wanted to be, and mingle with whatever class they desired to mingle with.”

However, things have changed a bit nowadays where masks are not worn to hide behind, but more for fun. On Fat Tuesday, everyone in the Mardi Gras parade who is riding on a float is required to wear masks by law. Wearing a mask adds to the fun and celebrations. If you don’t have a mask to wear, you could easily turn this into the perfect opportunity to make one.

5. Gumbo

After a day of cakes, donuts, and indulging in lots of food, end the day with a hearty dinner. Gumbo is another celebratory food that you can eat on Fat Tuesday. This spicy and filling meal can be served at any point throughout the day. If you can’t attend a Mardi Gras event, this meal is perfect to enjoy at home.

Find a recipe online that suits what you like. Try shrimp, chicken, or okra in your Gumbo. Traditional New Orleans Gumbo features a dark roux, vegetables, chicken, sausage, and shrimp. It is paired and served over rice.

Whether you try one of these traditions or all of them, enjoy your Fat Tuesday before the season of Lent starts. More content about Lent, like Racine’s infamous Fish Fry, will be featured soon on the Racine County Eye.

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