Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday

It is Mardi Gras eve in south Louisiana – or Lundi Gras – and it’s raining.  I’m tucked inside, with no real desire for paradegoing either tonight or tomorrow. I enjoy parades and beads, but the weather doesn’t look inviting, and wet beads are pretty yucky.

Yesterday at church, it was mentioned that Mardi Gras isn’t on the Christian calendar.  Of course not, but it’s certainly on the Louisiana calendar!  Our French and Acadian (mostly Catholic) heritage ensures that, and I pause to think about this custom of “one last fling” of indulgence before the penitential season of Lent. While some go far overboard with indulgence, most of the southern part of the state simply eats too much, drinks too much, and fights over cheap plastic beads thrown by people on floats who have been drinking too much since the early morning.  It’s an excuse for a party, and we love parties, and we love fun.  Mardi Gras is fun and everyone puts aside their worries for a day.

MardiGras Mardi Gras parade in south Louisiana

Then comes Ash Wednesday, where some wear hangovers, some wear ashes, and some wear both. We come back down to earth, go back to the office, and usually spend some time in prayer and/or church.  In a sense, we experience two opposite extremes of behavior in a very short period of time.  Mardi Gras reminds us of the make-believe and the unreal (and often surreal); the “kings” and “queens,” the masking where we can pretend to be our alter ego.

For Lent, some give up chocolate, some give up crawfish, some give up coffee.  (I would posit that my giving up coffee would be more penance for those around me, but that’s besides the point…) I gave up “giving up” tangible things for Lent years ago, instead choosing to devote more time to a spiritual practice – or giving up a bad habit.  Last year I gave up whining, and found my life so enriched that I pretty much gave it up for good.  Ash Wednesday – and Lent – invites us to explore who we really are. It’s not about giving up a “something,” but rather about receiving something precious.

I wish you a safe and fun Mardi Gras, and a holy and fulfilling Lent!