In my family this is a sacred time of the year, and not directly because of Jesus, Christianity or Ash Wednesday.
But kind of.
It’s because of Mardi Gras.
Both of my parents grew up in New Orleans (well, my mom in Metairie) and both sides of the family pretty heavily celebrate Fat Tuesday. As well as having particular significance to my family, as two of our family’s ancestral deities, my Aunt Judy Porter Beier and her father, my Papa P. Papa Preston Porter, passed away in the wee hours of Mardi Gras night/Ash Wednesday morning, many years apart, both at age 64…the day itself is a holiday for the whole city and outlying areas (I think). There are parades and balls for weeks leading up to this major main event. Which turns out isn’t really the main event, but the precursor.
For Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday in French, is the day before Ash Wednesday, or the first day of Lent, as recognized in Catholicism and some of the other Christian religions. Lent symbolizes the 40 days Jesus wandered the desert before he was crucified and resurrected on Easter Sunday, as the story goes.
During Lent the faithful were to ceremonially fast, as Jesus did when in the desert. Sometimes this was done by literal fasting of certain foods and sometimes, as is more common today, by renouncing something meaningful or a particular vice, to symbolize and facilitate an experience of sacrifice as Jesus experienced on his journey towards his upcoming transformation. As the story goes.
The day before Lent is also called Shrove Tuesday, after the Christian practice of “shriving,” or confessing their sins and receiving absolution from a priest before entering the sacred time of sacrifice in lent. The Fat Tuesday part seems to have come in as people would try to eat all the foods that could go bad during Lent, making pancakes with all the eggs, milk and fat that was on hand.
Yet another reason for Mardi Gras Carnival time is that people wanted to engage in all of the vices, all of the “fat” that is, that they would be giving up for the 40 plus days, depending on the tradition. In my life and in my family this enjoyment of the “fat” part is the aspect we have celebrated.
To be very clear, our Mardi Gras was not the lewd spectacle you may have seen on Bourbon Street. Our Mardi Gras was Granny making red beans and rice in Papa’s conversion van parked under the movie sign at Lakeside Shopping Center in Jefferson Parish. It was like a citywide Halloween in springtime where magical floats passed by as we sat in these ladders my Papa built and yelled “Throw me something Mister”… and they did. Colorful beads, shiny doubloons, plastic cups printed with the names of the Krewes of each parade and other random trinkets.
It was pretty disheartening when I went to Mardi Gras as an adult. I’m not into the degrading aspects and alcohol fueled excitement is no longer my cup of tea so…but the childhood memories are sweet and what Mardi Gras always was for me.
Yet this year is a bit different. There are no parades for one thing. For me personally it is a bit different too, as I am a different person than I was last year pre-Covid. Mardi Gras 2020 was one of the last mass gatherings and superspreader events before lockdown.
At this point so many of my/our hopes and dreams and naivety have been, well, crushed, and so many of us have to totally reinvent our lives. I don’t hope for or imagine the same things are possible that I did a year ago. I haven’t figured out how to go forward yet. I’m still dealing with the loss.
Perhaps I am out in the desert, or maybe we are between the crucifixion and the resurrection, symbolically. Regardless, this year I’m less focused on eating all the “fat”. I’m more interested in the renunciation, and the imminent transformation.
The shriving on Shrove Tuesday. Looking into what I want to atone for to help me move forward into what is becoming. Owning responsibility for my part. Offering up my self-will as sacrifice to open myself to possibilities beyond what my past experience and limited mind can conceive of, yet.
Receiving absolution to release me from guilt and shame so I can meet the future fresh, unburdened by my past. Oh, please hear me lord. Help me see what it is that is blocking me, what will free me if I can let it go.
For this is the potential of renunciation.
I share this with you as I find it interesting, and maybe you do too. Yet also to inspire you. To notice in this time that we have been forced to renounce all kinds of things without our consent, what has been beneficial to let go of? What has grown in the space? What will we embrace back with greater appreciation when and if we can? And what will we leave behind?
What do I consciously want to release in order to free me from my own expectations and the limits of my own self? What of these things can I do right now? How can I adapt to life as it is currently presenting and be ready to keep adapting as things continue to change? What do I have to contribute?
In this time I ceremonially let go of the “fat” I’ve been holding onto and step forward consciously into the transformation.
So be it. So be it. So be it.
So mote it be.
By the way I do not subscribe to any religion or worldview, although I do appreciate intentional ceremony, ritual and parable from all traditions.