Amid the zaniness so often associated with Mardi Gras, it’s easy to forget that the Carnival season is deeply rooted in the Catholic faith.

The roots of Mardi Gras run as deep as the pagan Roman celebration of Lupercalia, a February holiday that honored the Roman god of fertility and included feasting and drinking (two Mardi Gras staples).

As the Catholic Church began its rise in ancient Rome, Christian morality and teachings began to spread, creating a need to blend ancient Roman practices with Christianity. As the fledgling church continued to spread across Europe in the first century, cultures began to develop their own practices to celebrate the last day before Lent began.

In France, the popular tradition was to feast on foods that would be given up for Lent, such as meat, eggs and milk, thus the day was tagged with the moniker Mardi Gras, which means Fat Tuesday.

Almost paradoxically, many Christians received the sacrament of reconciliation on Mardi Gras so Fat Tuesday is also known as Shrove Tuesday. Shrove is the past tense of the word shrive, which refers to a priest hearing confession.

However, church officials were not always so receptive to the excesses of Mardi Gras and often made efforts to temper the mirthfulness. In 1747 through a special constitution from Pope Benedict XIV a plenary indulgence was granted to those who took part in the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament to be carried out daily for three days during the Carnival season.

Those same European traditions of gaiety were carried across the pond with the early settlers, and from the beginning Mardi Gras was celebrated with the same fervor in the New World as in Europe.

Naturally, none celebrated with the same enthusiasm as in southeast Louisiana. Today, those Catholic traditions remain very much a part of the Mardi Gras tradition.