Crowds are gathering in the U.S. city of New Orleans Tuesday to celebrate Mardi Gras, which literally means "Fat Tuesday".

Eleven parades will be taking place in the city Tuesday, and street parties will continue until midnight. Mardi Gras, or Carnival as it is known elsewhere, is a joyful time celebrated in many predominately Roman Catholic countries. It precedes Lent, the somber Christian observance leading up to Easter.

City officials say the crowd is smaller than last year, but still party-goers are pouring into New Orleans' famous French Quarter. Many of them are in costume, wearing purple, gold and green beads, feather boas and masks.

Lavish Mardi Gras parades were also staged in New Orleans Tuesday evening, one of them led by singer Harry Connick Jr.