How and Why We Should All Be Celebrating Mardi Gras
by Pamela J. Adams
A few weeks ago, Americans traveled to New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras with others across the globe. To most, Mardi Gras means alcohol, beaded necklaces, and women baring their breasts. It is the beginning of the Spring Break season, which means more alcohol and more half naked women, and if things go right, even more sexual exploits. However, Mardi Gras’ roots are actually grounded in fasting, confessing, and repenting of such behavior.
Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday,” marks the end of the Epiphany Season and begins the Lenten Season in the Christian church. Epiphany, observed on January 6th, celebrates the three wise men visiting Jesus. Lent is the season leading up to Easter. To understand Mardi Gras, you first have to know about the period that follows it.
The Lenten Season officially begins on Ash Wednesday. While neither Ash Wednesday nor Lent are specifically mentioned in the Bible, their basis is Biblical.
Throughout the Old Testament, God speaks of fasting as times for self-reflection, prayer and spiritual growth. This God-instructed practice inspired Christians to fast for a period before Easter. They chose 40 days since Jesus fasted that long prior to being tempted by Satan. However, some churches that observe Lent exclude Sundays as they represent Christ’s resurrection, and therefore fasting is not appropriate on those days. However, Orthodox denominations do include Sundays to adhere to a strict 40 days.
God repeatedly calls people to repent of their sins within both Testaments of the Bible. In Leviticus 16, God instructed the Israelites to yearly participate in such a day, known as the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur.
“Then he (Aaron) is to take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the entrance to the tent of meeting. He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat.” (Leviticus 16:8-9)
Aaron places all the wickedness and sinfulness of the Israelites on the scapegoat, which is then released into the wild. The other is sacrificed as a sin offering. Unfortunately, the ceremony of Yom Kippur itself became the focus, overshadowing the meaning behind it. They started believing the ritual satisfied God’s wrath, forgetting the events foreshadowed the Messiah as the goats represent what Jesus would do for all humanity.
Jesus’ teachings exposed their error, not to condemn them, but to bring them to the Gospel. Ultimately, He became our last scapegoat and sin offering, fulfilling God’s requirement for the sacrifices with His death and resurrection. Jews today still observe Yom Kippur by fasting and repenting, as was directed by God in the Old Testament.
As Jesus did “not come to abolish [the Law or the Prophets] but to fulfill them,” (Matthew 5:17) many of the practices God instructed to point to Christ were revised by Christians to celebrate His coming and sacrifice. Instead of one day of Atonement in preparation for the Savior, Lent was designed as an extended period of atonement to remind us of Jesus and His suffering for us on the cross. Therefore, leading up to Christ’s crucifixion, Christians fast, repent, and spend time in prayer. A time of self-examination, they look at their lives, admit their sinfulness, and recognize their need for a Savior. Thus, leading them to repentance. It emphasizes and stresses the true meaning and depth of Easter.
Ash Wednesday, or “Day of Ashes”, marks the official beginning of Lent. Throughout the Bible, ashes expressed not only grief, but also sin and sorrow.
When the Israelites mourned, whether for a person or sinfulness, they put ashes on their head. Though the Bible does not institute Ash Wednesday, the custom stems from instances of mourning, prayer, fasting, and repentance in the Bible.
Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornate robe she was wearing. She put her hands on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went. - 2 Samuel 13:19
When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly. - Esther 4:1
Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes. - Job 2:8
So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. - Daniel 9:3
“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” - Matthew 11:21
Churches often burn the previous year’s Palm Sunday branches to make the ashes for the Ash Wednesday service. Some ministers place the ashes on people’s foreheads, often in the sign of a cross. However, others just sprinkle the ashes on their heads. Regardless, it reminds worshippers of their sinfulness and mortality and therefore the need to repent.
Originally, ministers spoke God’s words to Adam and Eve, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” (Genesis 3:19) while applying the ashes. Over the years, Jesus’ quote from Mark 1:15, “Repent and believe in the Gospel,” has been used as well.
To prepare for the Lenten Season of humbleness and repentance, as well as growing spiritually, Christians initially observed the day before Ash Wednesday as a somber day. They used it as a day of confession, becoming known as Shrove Tuesday, from “shrive” meaning “confess”.
In the early church, Christians willingly gave up flour, sugar, and other delicacies as well as foods from animals such as meat, milk, eggs, butter, cheese, and animal fats. Since Lent is a time of fasting, Shrove Tuesday also became a day of feasting. People spent the day finishing up any meat and remaining ingredients before a period of abstaining. Eventually, the trips to the confessional were replaced by festivals of indulgence. Shrove Tuesday all too soon evolved into Fat Tuesday.
Some cultures observe “Carnaval” or “Carnival,” meaning “to take away meat” or “farewell to meat.” These festival periods were extended to last from Epiphany to Ash Wednesday. Like Shrove Tuesday, the pre-fasting time turned into untamed celebrations and balls, sometimes including costumes. Mardi Gras adopted carnival balls, often bookending the period with galas.
Over time, people became more loose and free with their morals during the festivities, believing they could just atone during Lent. Unfortunately, many party goers stopped participating in the time of fasting and repenting afterwards. Cultures twisted the solemn day of confessing into a time of free sinning. This behavior, especially for Christians, is not God-pleasing or Biblical at all.
Romans 13:13-14 states:
“Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”
Today, Christians throughout the world continue to observe Lent. Some Christians still abstain from favorite items such as sweets, pop, candy, chocolate, and other treats or food instead of participating in a full fast. Many Catholics still practice the tradition of giving up meat during Lent, eating only fish during the season. It reminds them of the sacrifice Christ made for us, giving up His life so that we may live eternally with Him in paradise. As a result, churches across the country offer Fish Frys on Fridays while many restaurants include special fish items on their menu during Lent.
While Satan and the secular world infest and pervert religious observances, they can’t stop us from learning and celebrating their true meanings. Only when we truly understand our sinfulness are we ready to accept Christ as our Savior, with Easter Sunday as His triumph over sin and death. Through baptism, we die with Jesus on the cross, thus sharing in Christ’s victory at His resurrection. Satan can never steal that from us!
May you have a blessed Lenten Season. I pray we revel, not in things of this world, but in the glory of our risen Savior.
But that’s just my 2 cents.
About the Author
Pamela J. Adams was a high school math teacher in an inner city school system but her passion is research and history. Pam has authored several genealogy books along with compilations of her historical blogs, Liberating Letters, which she maintains at her website TheFactsPaper.com. You can find more details about her books on her Amazon Page.
You can follow her current blogs at her Liberating Letters Facebook, Twitter, and Patreon accounts. Her desire is to provide a tool for teachers, parents, grandparents, and citizens to preserve and pass on America's rich history to students, family, and all people who love freedom and liberty. Pamela was also a contributing writer to Constitution.com before joining Mustard Seed Sentinel.
“Read more untold stories and how they still relate to us today at TheFactsPaper.com.”
You can read Pamela’s “I Never Heard That” column on the 2nd Wednesday each month here at Mustard Seed Sentinel.