Mardis GrasI didn’t know what Mardis Gras was until I was twelve years old. You see, before that, my family had lived in The Land Where People Don’t Put Sugar In Their Iced Tea, aka not the South. It’s not that non-Southerners are in general completely ignorant of the existence of Mardis Gras; it’s just that it isn’t a major part of the culture, and so it didn’t happen to be something that had ever come up in my own experiences up to that point. And then we moved to the South, where Mardis Gras is a fairly noteworthy holiday associated with specific traditions and connotations. (I’d rank it somewhere between Saint Patrick’s Day and Valentine’s Day in cultural prominence) I’m sure that Mardis Gras here is nowhere near as big a deal as it is in New Orleans, but it still is an important enough occasion to be the topic of many facebook statuses, the theme in the cafeteria today, and the reason for various parties. That wasn’t the way things were in the Midwest. Don’t get me wrong; I love the South, (and I prefer my iced tea to be sweetened) but I’m really not a fan of the whole Mardis Gras thing.

Mardis Gras is, by definition, the day before Ash Wednesday. (Although, depending upon the context, Mardis Gras doesn’t necessarily refer only to the one day) “Mardis Gras” is French for “Fat Tuesday”, which, along with “Shrove Tuesday”, is an alternate name for the occasion. The original point was that the last day before Lent should be a day of feasting and celebration because of the fasting that would occur when Lent started. That already seems like a kind of silly idea to me. It’s comparable to deliberately eating unhealthily right before starting a diet, but even less logical because a diet is something you do for the sake of bettering your health, not because it’s Lent. (Although I hear a lot of people talking about going on a diet for Lent because they want to lose weight. They’re kind of missing the point; giving something up for Lent is not the same thing as a New Year’s Resolution.) What makes the observance of Mardis Gras even sillier, though, is that there are people who celebrate it who aren’t Christians, don’t observe Lent, and don’t think of Mardis Gras as being religious in any way.

Pictured: How to celebrate Valentine's Day

Pictured: How to celebrate Valentine’s Day

I do understand the argument that just because an observance had a religious origin doesn’t mean that it is still a completely religious occasion. After all, we observe Valentine’s Day by celebrating secular notions of romantic love and by eating red jello, and we observe Saint Patrick’s Day by celebrating Irish culture and eating green jello. That isn’t sinful, even though those days were originally religious observances, and so I suppose it technically also isn’t sinful to observe the last day before Lent by wearing colored beads and eating whatever color jello we think should be associated with Mardis Gras. (Yellow? Purple? Actually, as far as I know, Mardis Gras isn’t a jello holiday, but perhaps it should be, since it has so much in common with the other jello holidays. Maybe I’d like Mardis Gras better if it was a jello holiday.) Of course, some people would argue that the religious/secular shift goes both ways; they claim that Christmas and Easter weren’t originally religious holidays. Actually, it is more accurate to say that they are religious holidays that happen to coincide with pagan holidays, and that our current culture has a tendency of blending traditions with different histories and ignoring the fact that some of them are Christian and others are pagan. And yes, in the case of Christmas, it’s true that our observance of the holiday probably doesn’t fall very close to the time of year when it actually took place. But that’s something of a tangent because I’m really just talking about Mardis Gras.

Mardis GrasMardis Gras is more or less unique in being a holiday that I dislike; in general, I am in favor of any reason to treat any day as being special, to use it as an excuse to celebrate, and to associate it with enjoyable traditions. Basically, my objection to Mardis Gras is that it takes away from the significance of the beginning of Lent. For all of the fuss that people make over Mardis Gras, Ash Wednesday gets so little attention that some people think it only exists in the Roman Catholic church. (As a Lutheran, I can’t help feeling a little indignant when people ask me if I’m Catholic.) I haven’t heard my classmates talking about Lent, but I’ve heard an awful lot about Mardis Gras and about the Mardis Gras parties that will ironically be held this weekend after Lent has already started. The only reason that I’ve even seen much talk about Lent on the internet is that I know a lot of cool people who post religious things online. Even then, I think I’ve seen a lot more Mardis Gras themed things.

Because I’m a little short on time, I’m not going to continue this blog post in the logical direction (which would be to say something about Lent) and I’m also not going to try to justify the fact that I actually do like Halloween, which is also a secular holiday that was originally observed as the day before a religious holiday. I don’t think I really need to justify that anyway, because this really is just my opinion; I’m not trying to make any kind of moral statement. It’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong about Mardis Gras, it’s just that I’m not used to observing it, so I am a little bit bothered by its cultural prominence. And also, if we’re going to celebrate it, we really ought to assign a certain color of jello to it. I’m voting for yellow.

Advertisements