by Billy Roper
Originally, the only beads given out during Mardi Gras would be those on a rosary. Today’s society has become so amoral and divorced from its religious origins that a surprising number of people have no idea what Mardi Gras is all about. For them, it’s literally just an excuse to party: to overindulge in alcohol, illicit drugs, and sex. Some of them even make an annual pilgrimage to New Orleans or Mobile to join in the debauchery. In practice the true, original meaning has been lost, and the spirit of the Holy Day has become the opposite of what was intended. Kind of like Christmas, eh?
Mardi Gras, also call Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday, was the last chance to eat, drink, and be merry before lent, the traditional time when people gave up something important to them, such as cigarettes or drinking or eating meat, to mark the time leading up to the greatest sacrifice of all: Christ dying on the cross for our sins. In actuality, it’s not just one day, but begins on the Christian Feast of the Epiphany, or Three King’s Day, and ends on Ash Wednesday. Today, February 28th, is the last day, when people really go crazy with their hedonism and partying.
Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of blessing ashes made from palm branches blessed on the previous year’s Palm Sunday, and placing them on the heads of participants to the accompaniment of the words “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”. It commemorates Jesus’s fasting and temptation by Satan in the desert for forty days.
Now, I’m not a Catholic, or Anglican, or Lutheran, or Methodist, or Presbyterian, I am a Christian Identist, but it’s important for all believers to remember that at one point ALL of our ancestors were, and they all celebrated these Feast Days, and Lent, and Mardi Gras. So, the original meaning and purpose of them are a part of our people’s culture and heritage- a part, like so many others, which has been corrupted and dirtied.
In the Belgian city of Binche, the Mardi Gras festival is one of the most important days of the year and the summit of the Carnival of Binche. Around 1000 Gilles dance throughout the city from morning until past dusk, whilst traditional carnival songs play. In 2003, the “Carnival of Binche” was proclaimed one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
In the Czech Republic it is a folk tradition to celebrate Mardi Gras, which is called Masopust (meat-fast i.e. beginning of fast there). The main celebration is in Prague.
The celebration on the same day in Germany knows many different terms, such as Schmutziger Donnerstag or Fetter Donnerstag (Fat Thursday), Unsinniger Donnerstag, Weiberfastnacht, Greesentag and others, and are often only one part of the whole carnival events during one or even two weeks before Ash Wednesday be called Karneval, Fasching, or Fastnacht among others, depending on the region. In standard German, schmutzig means “dirty”, but in the Alemannic dialects schmotzig means “lard” (Schmalz), or “fat”; “Greasy Thursday”, as remaining winter stores of lard and butter used to be consumed at that time, before the fasting began. Fastnacht means “Eve of the Fast”, but all three terms cover the whole carnival season. The traditional start of the carnival season is on November 11 at 11:11 am (11/11 11:11).
In Italy Mardi Gras is called Martedì Grasso (Fat Tuesday). It’s the main day of Carnival along with the Thursday before, called Giovedí Grasso (Fat Thursday), which ratifies the start of the celebrations. The most famous Carnivals in Italy are in Venice, Viareggio and Ivrea. Ivrea has the characteristic “Battle of Oranges” that finds its roots in medieval times. The Italian version of the festival is spelled Carnevale.
The Netherlands also has a festival similar to Mardi Gras. It’s called Carnaval and is similar to the Venice Carnival. The origin of the word Carnaval is carnem levare which means “to take away meat” in Latin, or carne vale, Latin for “farewell to meat”. It marks the beginning of Lent leading up to Easter.
The carnival in the Netherlands is mainly held in the southern part of the Netherlands in the provinces of Noord-Brabant and Limburg, some parts of Zeeland and in eastern parts of Twente and Gelderland. As with many popular festivals, people tend to loosen some moral codes and become laid-back or loose, which is based in the ancient role-reversal origins of Carnaval, including dressing in costumes.
In Sweden the celebration is called Fettisdagen, when you eat fastlagsbulle, more commonly called Semla. The name comes from the words “fett” (fat) and “tisdag” (Tuesday). Originally, this was the only day one should eat fastlagsbullar.
In the United States, Mardi Gras is still celebrated as a religious holiday by most Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Presbyterians. Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday, the day after Fat Tuesday, lasts as a forty day fast until Easter, the celebration of Jesus’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. Most of the more raucous celebrations take place in the regions of the American south which were formerly a part of New France, though, such as Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and East Texas.
Many Christians, including those who do not attend church, choose to give something up for Lent.
This can be a favorite food such as chocolate or sugar, or a vice such as alcohol or smoking.
Some believers mark Lent by taking part in the Lenten Positive Acts Challenge – whereby they commit to doing one positive act on each day of Lent.
As a Christian, I pledge to speak out on behalf of my people and their interests every day between now and Easter, as my Lenten Positive Act Challenge. Will you join me in that challenge?
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