Mardi Gras is French for "Fat Tuesday," a reference to the binge eating a lot of Catholics do before Lent. As is often the case with holidays, the Christian roots are intertwined with earlier pagan practices. It was very common for early church fathers to integrate elements of pagan ritual in an attempt to attract potential converts.

Mardi Gras itself originated in the Middle Ages and was brought to the U.S. by the French explorer Iberville. In 1827, Parisian-style masked balls were legalized in New Orleans after a long period of prohibition. The celebration soon became known for its celebrants' raucous behavior during fanciful parades.

In 1857 a small, secretive organization called Comus codified the Mardi Gras parades and launched many customs that live on today. From there, various collectives called "krewes" would put on different parades and begin traditions such as the "Zulu King," the "Queen of Mardi Gras," and the Mardis Gras Anthem, "If I Ever Cease to Love."

From there, krewes came and went, organizing specific parades for a while and then fading into obscurity. Today there are a few dozen krewes, each with their own unique parades, balls, masquerades and royalty.

For more info, visit East Jefferson Parish.

Check out this gorgeous color footage of the 1941 Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans:

-- Contributed by Cole Stryker