New Orleans and other cities around the globe this week marked Mardi Gras, which is French for “Fat Tuesday.” It’s a celebration of excess that comes the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Christianity’s Lenten period, in which people will fast and observe other Christian rituals through to Easter Sunday. For those of you who are Catholic or Christian leaders in the community, could you describe how you celebrate Mardi Gras and explain what meaning it holds for you? And for you non-Christian religious leaders, is there an equivalent to Mardi Gras in your religion’s traditions?
“Mardi gras” is French for “Fat Tuesday;” “carnival” is from the Latin “carne” and “vale,” and means “goodbye, meat”! Most Episcopalians/Anglicans call the day before Ash Wednesday “Shrove Tuesday.” “Shrove” comes from “shriven,” an Old English term for “confession.”
Shrove Tuesday traditions were to be “shorn” of sins, by self-examination and repentance before starting one’s Lenten pilgrimage; of eggs, sugar and butter in the larder, because these could be taboo during one’s Lenten fast; and of hair. Remember that a haircut was a very rare medieval activity, and, as with baths, once a year was par for the course.
Our personal hygiene may have improved, but we all still have the need to “clean up our act.” Lent is an opportunity to do so!
(The Very Rev’d Canon) Peter D. Haynes
Saint Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church
Corona del Mar
In Islam we do not have anything that resembles “Mardi Gras,” in which Muslims would indulge in excessive feasts. In fact, Muslims are advised to maintain balance in all aspects of our life, from eating to sleeping to working to family, even worshiping.
Although we may see Muslims over-indulging in the breaking of the fast meals during the month of Ramadan, this is not the spirit or intent of the message of the Ramadan fast.
Islam teaches moderation. Ali Ibn Abi Talib, a great Muslim figure, said our stomachs should not be made as dumping grounds, and that our mattress should not be too comfortable to oversleep.
Our state of being, according to Islam, is to be in a state of God-consciousness and to be ambassadors on Earth working righteousness. Thus, if we are in remembrance of God, we would not over indulge ourselves.
Sayed Moustafa Al-Qazwani
Imam, Islamic Educational Center of OC
Mardi Gras is all about gettin’ your party on! Theoretically, if people can get all the “good stuff” out of their house and out of their system they’ll be prepared to observe Lent. While it looks like a lot of fun, I worry about the partying in excess — too much of a good thing is sometimes just not a good thing!
This year I celebrated Mardi Gras by witnessing Disney hotel workers break a weeklong fast as they demonstrated their commitment to negotiating a fair contract. Rejoicing with them in their unity felt like something worthy of a party! Following the action, a colleague and I shared in a Shrove Tuesday tradition of eating pancakes. I ate some bacon and sausage knowing that, come Ash Wednesday, I would become a Lenten vegetarian.
I think the celebration of Mardi Gras is important because it reminds us to have fun and celebrate our lives together. There is a richness to life that needs to be lifted up! Mardi Gras offers us a time to celebrate God’s party! However, personally I enjoy the season Mardi Gras ushers in even more. Lent juxtaposed with Mardi Gras might appear joyless, but ultimately both are celebrating God’s presence in our lives.
The Rev. Sarah Halverson
Fairview Community Church
Mardi Gras is not part of our tradition. Think of the dichotomy — during the 40 days of Lent we prepare for the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus by imitating the 40 days of temptation and fasting in the desert in preparation for his ministry. I am fairly certain Jesus didn’t go to downtown Jerusalem and throw beads to girls willing to flash him on his way to the desert. Yes, Jesus came to give us life abundantly, and he was often the life of the party, but don’t take that out of context. Living life abundantly doesn’t mean we get to throw dignity, integrity, civility and morals out the window.
When God freed the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, He brought them to Mt. Sinai and gave them the Ten Commandments. The Commandments were not to put the people into a new kind of religious slavery, but to keep them from the slavery of sinful living. Shakespeare’s comment “What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive” is true of all sin. It starts little and becomes addictive.
When Moses came off Mt. Sinai, he found the Hebrews having a Mardi Gras celebration of their own, with the same kind of flashing, drinking and sexual partying. They had returned the slavery of excess and indulgence that God was trying to free them from. Mardi Gras is symbolic of the hypocrisy that people who don’t know Christ look at and say, “See their faith is meaningless; they are hypocrites. Following Jesus is meaningless.”
It has no place in the Christian walk.
Lead Pastor, The Beacon OC
For some, Mardi Gras has become less of a celebration because fasting regulations governing Lent have been softened quite a bit over the past few decades, at least in the Catholic Church. Back in the day, one would abstain from meat, dairy byproducts, lard and the like for the 40 days after Fat Tuesday. Now, one is required to refrain from eating meat only on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays during Lent. Likewise, fasting is required only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
These moderate penances remind us of the importance of sacrificing and denying ourselves without going overboard. Of course, we can fast from other things besides food alone, such as television, surfing the Internet, texting and the like.
We must remember that the end of prayer, fasting and almsgiving is to bring us closer to God by making room for him, and realizing our need for him. During this penitential season, we recognize our sinfulness and ask the Lord for pardon, and very much look forward to Easter Sunday.
Fr. Stephen Doktorczyk
St. Joachim Church