COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Considered by many Christians to be the holiest time of the year, the Lenten season begins Wednesday and carries through to Easter.

Fat Tuesday is the last day before Lent — which kicks off with Ash Wednesday — and historically was when Christians would prepare a large feast to use up meat and supplies they would abstain from until Easter.

Mardi Gras, another name for Fat Tuesday, gained popularity in America when French explorers Pierre Le Moyne Sieur d’Iberville and Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville arrived near what is now Louisiana in 1699 on Shrove Tuesday, yet another name for Fat Tuesday.

Although New Orleans has become synonymous with Mardi Gras celebrations, it wasn’t the first location to host such events in the New World. Fort Louis de la Mobile, known now as Mobile, Alabama, hosted the first Mardi Gras celebration in 1703. It wasn’t until 15 years later, after de Bienville established New Orleans (Nouvelle Orleans), that the city hosted the first of its signature event. Historical records show that the first Mardi Gras street parade in the city happened in 1837.

Whatever you call it, it’s all a lead-up to the Lenten season, when Christians observe 46 days of fasting (Sundays excluded, so 40 days total) to honor the fasting Jesus Christ endured while being led into temptation by the devil, as written in Matthew 4:1-11.

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent and is one of the more heavily attended non-Sunday services among Christian churches. At the service, ashes from burned palms used during the previous year’s Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter) are applied in the shape of a cross to the foreheads of the congregation.

To accommodate busier modern lives, many churches have, in the last few years, started offering drive-up and walk-up blessings on Ash Wednesday. The service took up greater importance for Christians during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Observant Christians are required to fast on Ash Wednesday, often eating only one full meal and no meat. The “no meat” meals continue every Friday during Lent, including Good Friday; fish is allowed.

Lent is a period of sacrifice, with the person sacrificing something. In more modern times, these are often things the person enjoys, including certain foods, alcohol or activities.

Sunday, April 9, is Easter and the end of Lent.