According to historians, festivities resembling Mardi Gras go back thousands of years to ancient Roman festivals celebrating the harvest season. After Christianity arrived in Rome, old traditions were incorporated into the new faith and debauchery became a prelude to the Lenten season.
This fusion resulted in a hedonistic period of boozing, masquerading and dancing with a heavy dose of religion.
As Christianity spread throughout Europe, so did the pre-Lenten festivities. Along the way, new traditions were born and some old ones took on new incarnations. One of those Roman traditions became the sweet staple of New Orleans' Mardi Gras known as the king cake.
During Saturnalia, a winter solstice celebration of Saturn, the god of agriculture, beans were baked into cakes
to celebrate the harvest. Whoever found the bean was named "king of the day." In the Middle Ages, Christianity appropriated the tradition for the festival of the Epiphany, also known as Three Kings' Day.