Mardi Gras: A religious holiday

Published 7:49 pm Monday, February 26, 2007

By By Tray Smith
Each year, the Christian world celebrates Christ's resurrection on Easter, but it always celebrates Easter on a different date than the previous year. Yet, so few take the time to ask why Easter is always celebrated on a different date, how that date is determined, and the affect that date has on other holidays. As important as this holiday is to the Christian faith; the way its date is determined, along with many of the other holidays related to it, is surrounded by ambiguity.
In the year 325, the First Council of Nicaea stipulated that Easter would be celebrated on the same day world wide, and that day would be Sunday. Over time, the method for determining the date for that celebration evolved, and different denominations (pending mainly on geographic location) now celebrate Easter on different days. In most of the Western Hemisphere, Easter is on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. The equinox is always on March 21. That means that Easter can be celebrated anytime between March 22 and April 25.
Ash Wednesday, which always comes exactly 46 days before Easter and one day after Fat Tuesday, was recognized this past week. This date marks the beginning of Lent and the end of Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday.) Thus, the dates of Good Friday, Palm Sunday, Ash Wednesday and Mardi Gras vary each year, pending on the date that Easter falls on. But more important than the way the dates are calculated is why these holidays are interrelated and the historical significance of each of them.
Lent is the period between Ash Wednesday and Great Thursday (the Thursday before Easter) in which Christians of the Catholic descent and other denominations are expected to give up something for God. Though the event begins 46 days before Easter, Sundays are not counted because it is not thought appropriate to fast on the Lord's Day, meaning practitioners celebrate Lent for a total of forty days. The three traditional actions of lent involve fasting, praying and almsgiving. In modern times, some people simply sacrifice something they enjoy or give a charitable contribution to mark the occasion.
Proceeding lent is Mardi Gras, which is French for Fat Tuesday. Celebrated as the Carnival in other nations, it began as a way to eliminate excess supplies of food ahead of the Lent fast. It came to America in the late 17th century, and annual celebrations began in 1703 in the capital of French Louisiana, Mobile.
As our television screens are filled with images of parades and balls, moon pies and crazy drunks, it is important for us to recognize Mardi Gras's relationship to Easter and its origins as a religious holiday, in which people would feast before they fast. Many who attended Mardi Gras celebrations this year may not be planning on giving something up for the Lord over the coming weeks, and we often think of Mardi Gras as anything but religious, but in truth, it was designed so that Christians could have an enjoyable time before fasting or otherwise sacrificing for the Lord over the course of Lent.
Now many religious people balk at the idea of people loosing control of their behavior in the streets in parade settings where violence and drunkenness is often the norm. But they should be even more offended that all of these actions are taking place under a corruption of the original purpose of Mardi Gras.
Though many other regions of the world also celebrate Mardi Gras, our area is unique in being that the United State's is the only major region in which Mardi Gras is celebrated. These annual events attract visitors from all over the country. Internationally, Mardi Gras is celebrated in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Italy, and Sweden, to name some examples.
As we move towards the Easter holidays, it is important for all of us to remember and celebrate our religious heritage. And as we look back to the Mardi Gras season, we should remember that it means more than moon pies.
That is the bottom line.
Tray Smith is a sophomore at ECHS and former intern in the Riley administration. He can be reached for comment at

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