Today is the day before the religious observance of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. The conclusion of Mardi Gras is also referred to as “Fat Tuesday,” “Shrove Tuesday,” or “Paczki Day,” depending upon where you live and upon your cultural background. (If you haven’t had them, paczkis are a delicious kind of jelly-filled doughnut that originated in Poland; they are popular throughout the Midwest).

So what’s the history behind all these sweet confections, and why do so many people make it a point to indulge today?

Emily Hilliard (@housepie) reports for NPR on the traditions behind Fat Tuesday and the many different doughnuts of Mardi Gras.

“Originating in the medieval era, most Christian European traditions have developed a version of fried dough for Shrove Tuesday (another name for the day before Lent starts). The rich treats presented a way to use up all of the butter, sugar and fat in the house prior to the self-denying diets of Lent. Traditionally it was an opportunity for indulgence, a day when, once a year, communities would go through the labor-intensive and expensive process of deep-frying in order to partake in a luxurious treat.”

Beignets, fastnachts, castagnoles, pancakes, doughnuts, and more are in abundance today. If you’re inclined, indulge.