WHY I CELEBRATE LENT & MARDI GRAS
(Even though I'm not Catholic!)
Many people who know me are *SHOCKED* when
they first discover that I am a strict observer of Lent (I even have two sets of special meditations that I do on each day
The first thing they always say
to me is, "But you're not Catholic, are you?"
As if Catholicism, or even Christianity,
own the "rights" to this late winter/early spring period of spiritual cleansing & purification that has been
marked for thousands of years by humans.
Mardi Gras is the last carnival celebration before the beginning of Lent...did you know that the word "carnival"
actually means "the end of flesh", as in, "the end of meat"? Many people think that Mardi Gras (and
the Lenten season that follow) are just Catholic or Christian holidays. That is not true. (Notice that you do
not find any mention of Mardi Gras or Lent in the Bible.)
In fact, Mardi Gras & Lent are not even Christian in origin, but instead date back to the pre-Christian festival
called "Lupercalia" of the ancient Romans, which usually took place
around February 15th. (Some say that this festival also dates back to an even older ancient Greek festival
associated with the lusty fertility god Pan.)
was a Roman festival of partying & debauchery (not unlike modern Mardi Gras) with the purpose of spiritually purifying
& cleansing the city & its inhabitants of evil spirits....it was also a celebration of fertility, which usually involved
a lot of nudity and you-know-what (smile).
ancient cultures had similar fertility festivals & carnivals near the end of winter followed by periods of fasting, abstinence,
and cleansing. Originally, the reason for these kinds of festivals was a very practical
reason....after all, it's no accident that carnival means "the end of meat" or "farewell
to the flesh"....food (especially meat) was often very scarce during this time of year in pre-industrial times.
Usually, the fasting & denial that were
involved in the seasons of purification that followed these later winter/early spring carnivals were more just a necessary
"fact of life" than part of a voluntary spiritual giving up. During those ancient times, you had to fast at the end of winter, or you simply weren't going to make it through spring
with enough food for you & your family to eat. In ancient times, contemplation &
conservation of energy were NECESSARY to get through the worst days of winter & darkness yet ahead.
Although most of the ancient carnival celebrations had either
been outlawed or significantly "watered-down" by 5th century BC or so, hints of them continued to weave
their way into Christianity as new traditions evolved. Like all religions before it (and indeed, all that will come
after it), Christianity was in no way an entirely original religion. In fact, most of its holidays derive from the
holidays of ancient, Pre-Christian traditions, including the major holidays of Christmas, Easter, and Lent.
In terms of post-Christian evolution, Mardi Gras came up out
of the remnants of Lupercalia, and has been celebrated since the Middle Ages in Paris as "Mardi Gras" proper.
The official Mardi Gras celebration in the United States was held by the French explorer Iberville on March 3rd
1699, just 60 miles south of modern day New Orleans. The rest is, as they say, history.
at Mardi Gras (as well as Lent) from this larger historical perspective, you can see that these are not truly only "Catholic"
or even only "Christian" holidays, but instead belong to the larger Universal spiritual tradition. Like most
sacred holidays & festivals that we honor in our modern world, these traditions did not originate in any modern religion,
nor do they "belong" to any one religion in particular.
Instead, these modern holidays trace themselves back to ancient wisdom traditions that are ultimately rooted in Universal
Truths that transcend religion, cultural, time, and space. No one religion "owns"
these truths, just as no single religion can claim to own God (although many do try to make this outrageous
Even though I am not "Catholic"
and not only "Christian" either (in the strict sense of the word....my official religion is love), I do
celebrate Mardi Gras most years, and I also honor the season of Lent each year by giving up some substance or habit that I
feel is symbolic of "decadence" and will help me to purify on a spiritual, mental, emotional, or physical level.
Most years I give up coffee. Yes, that is right,
as of tomorrow, I will be coffee-free for the next 6 weeks, except for on Sundays (the modern tradition allows for one "day
of reprieve" each week if you are fasting from a food or a substance). Now, les you begin to think that I am a
total saint (chuckle), let me clarify by saying that I am only giving up coffee, and not caffeine. In fact,
during Lent, I allow myself any other source of caffeine that I would like besides coffee, including black tea, green
tea, hot cocoa, diet cola, or chai....I just can't have coffee (which of course, is my absolute favorite source
The reason I choose coffee each year
to give up is because it is something that I enjoy drinking in a fun & decadent way (with lots of raw sugar & cream).
Quite frankly, not drinking it for most of 6 weeks is very good on my health (much less caffeine, not to mention less sugar
& dairy). But I also do it for spiritual reasons, because when I get tired during Lent, and feel as if
I can't go on, I either:
A) Stop working
and take a break, during which I will inevitably rest, sleep, meditate, or pray (which is very much in keeping with the spirit
of Lent) or:
B) If I feel I must
continue to keep working even though I don't feel "energized" or up to it, instead of reaching for that cup of coffee,
I will stop and pray, and ask Spirit to give me the energy & motivation to continue on with the task before me.
Either way, the result is that instead of using coffee (or a
weaker caffeine substitute) to keep me going & "productive" during Lent, I lean on the energy of Spirit instead,
and also allow myself more time for rest, meditation, and relaxation. As far as I am concerned, this is the
true spirit of Lent, and the true reason for any kind of "fasting" or abstinence that is done during the season
For as we fast from a certain habit
or food during Lent (or any other time), we are feasting on Spirit instead. In this way, the sense of denial
is lessened, and rather than feeling deprived, we instead can feel edified, uplifted, and inspired through the process of
our physical & spiritual spring cleansing. Regardless of your particular religious identity or spiritual beliefs,
this concept of spring cleansing, and particularly the idea of fasting in some form or another so that you may spiritually
feast, can be beneficial.
This is why I celebrate
Lent, even though I'm not Catholic (smile). Regardless of your religion, let's all fast from something we need
to let go of, so that we can FEAST on Spirit instead!
Mardi Gras! Wishing you a peaceful, meditative, and contemplative Lenten season ahead!
P.S. By the way,
the ancient holiday of Lupercalia that I mentioned early in this story is probably also the original source of our modern
Valentine's holiday. So Happy Valentine's too! <3