What’s the point of Mardi Gras?


If so . . . do you know why?
If not . . . why not?

On every continent around the world, people are celebrating this weekend (a season which started on 12th Night, Jan. 6th or Epiphany), culminating in a big party this coming Tuesday.

This time of year is actually a religious holiday, a continuation of the Christmas season, a time for communities, churches & families to feast together, hold masked balls (often to support charities), and join together to support important causes & needs throughout the community. There are also parades, costumes, parties, dances, music, and general Joie de vivre. If it’s done right, it takes the best bits of Halloween, Thanksgiving & Christmas – parading it through the streets, spawning spontaneous dancing, and bringing communities, families, churches, businesses & krewes together regardless of age, race, class or culture for the biggest party of the year.

It is called by many names such as Carnival, Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, Shrovetide, Pancake Day, Carnival of Binche, Carnaval de Barranquilla, Masopust, Karneval, Fasching, Martedì Grasso, Carnevale, Carnem Levare, Fettisdagen, Carnaval Ponceño, Užgavėnės, Meteņi, Maslenitsa. It can be elaborate & elegant or over the top & extreme, or bawdy & rude, or political & rebellious, or holy & civic-minded, or many other things.

It should be stated that most people who are celebrating today have no idea what or why they are celebrating – the same as all “holidays”, most are sparkly skeletons of their former sacred glory. But – still, a holiday.  A time of joy & celebration.

Where I live we call Mardi Gras weekend Saturday & Sunday . . . Lundi Gras is simply Monday, and Mardi Gras is nothing but another Tuesday. I find this incredibly sad. Our lack of celebration and knowledge of the traditions and customs is the result of the Protestant purge of all things Catholic. I fully support the cause of the Protestant Reformation, and think we need another one today to rid the church of politics, money, prosperity gospel, and all remnants of racism, nationalism or judgmental ideologies that have no place in the Gospel & grace of Jesus Christ. I think the wide celebration of Carnival in each community would actually help with this. Christmas used to bring us all together – but now it’s just another excuse to wage culture wars. We need Carnival to get us all dancing together in the streets.  Carnival is about unity, community, the wider family of the town in which you live, and the coming together of disparate factions – rich, poor, young, old, white, black, etc.

However, in order for this holiday to actually become a Holy Day, Carnival season & Mardi Gras must be followed by Lent . . . a time of personal reflection & self-sacrifice. Without Lent, Carnival is simply a time of unabashed debauchery.  Granted, that’s what some people like about it . . . but also why it is not celebrated much more widely throughout every American city and community like many of the other Holy Days that were originally banned in America by the Puritans.  Mainstream Protestants brought back Christmas and Easter – but Carnival was left to the Catholics.

Lent can be a wonderful Holiday as well – although it includes a very different type of celebration.  Lent is a season leading up to Easter, lasting for 40 days, where individuals evaluate their lifestyle choices, give up negative habits and seek to commit themselves to something better & bigger than their own desires.  It is a time to renew one’s commitment to God, and refresh one’s personal relationship with the Creator.

There is a legitimate need for all of us to modify our behaviors to be healthier – no matter what your spiritual beliefs, and for the faithful, it is essential to seek greater closeness to our Creator & Savior. Lent allows us to create space to think about our life choices and reflect where God fits into the hierarchy of things that consume our lives on a day to day basis.

So, celebrate through next Tuesday – dance, sing, eat, drink, be merry and hold your loved ones close. Then, on Ash Wednesday, start on a 40-day journey towards health, reflection, repentance, putting others first, and maybe even shed some tears & some weight in preparation for something great to come.

On every continent around the world, people are celebrating this weekend (a season which started on 12th Night, Jan. 6th or Epiphany), culminating in a big party this coming Tuesday.


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