Before you can get to Mardi Gras, you'll have to go through Twelfth Night, right?  But what is it exactly?

It’s a play by William Shakespeare, right? Well, yes, that’s true, too. But in South Louisiana (and in several parts of the Catholic world), the day holds a greater significance – it’s a feast day, and the official start of Mardi Gras season.

So why is it called Twelfth Night? Well, it’s quite simply 12 days after Christmas – January 6. When you sing about “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” that’s what you’re talking about – Christmas and the days that follow. (It’s also called “Little Christmas,” “Kings’ Day” or “The Epiphany.”)

Primarily, it’s a Christian feast day that celebrates when the Magi visited the baby Jesus, among other things. But as far as Mardi Gras goes, it’s the start of Carnival season. Between Jan. 6 and Mardi Gras Day, each of the Krewes hold their official balls.

You can think of Twelfth Night as the kick-off to several months of partying, because once Mardi Gras is done and Ash Wednesday rolls around, we’re in Lent – and that means a time of sacrifice.

Now, most of the Mardi Gras balls are invitation only. You have to belong to that specific group or krewe to participate – BUT, Twelfth Night is sort of a public Mardi Gras ball. Everyone’s invited, and each krewe’s court from the previous year gets one more chance to strut their stuff before a new court is chosen.