Last month Mardi Gras, also known as Carnival, began around the world. The Orlando Carnival Association hosts one from Feb. 28 thru Mar. 5. Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday and starts after the Epiphany, which celebrates the revelation of God sending His Son to Earth. It ends the day before Ash Wednesday. Another name for Epiphany is King’s Day. Part of Mardi Gras celebrations is the King Cake. In some cakes a doll representing baby Jesus is hidden. The person who finds it is king for the day.
Ash Wednesday (when believers place ashes on their forehead as an indication of repentance), is the start of the traditional Catholic season of Lent. Lent, a six week period leading up to Easter, is observed by fasting from eating rich foods. People are encouraged to practice other forms of self restraint as well (e.g. no partying). Historically, in the days before Lent all food that was considered rich had to be disposed of. Thus they were consumed in a large community gathering, hence the name Fat Tuesday. These parties to “eat, drink and be merry” may be where Carnival originated from. Yet, while local events are tame by comparison, in many countries Mardi Gras often centers on drunken revelry and sensual exhibition. How did this prelude to piety evolve into celebrating mans baser instincts, in essence, calling evil good?
The origin of current Carnival behavior dates back to centuries before the birth of Christ from the ancient festival of Bacchanalia. This was a medieval practice where Greeks worshiped Dionysus. Dionysus is the god of the grape harvest, wine, ritual madness and ecstasy. His followers viewed him as the protector of those outside of conventional society. As a result, to them he represented that which was chaotic, dangerous and not subject to human reason. He was also known as Bacchus, a name adopted by the Romans. Carnival festivities are sometimes referred to as bacchanals. As Roman Catholics moved out into the world, the Carnival traditions spread with them. The French brought it to America.
The flip side of the warning about calling evil good, found in Isaiah 5:20, is to beware of calling good evil. Celebrating the world shattering event of Jesus coming to Earth and redeeming the children of God from Satan has shifted to celebrating the arrival of spring instead. The world has trivialized Jesus’ triumphant victory over evil into focusing on furry bunnies, fuzzy chicks and painted eggs. When that happens, have we not let our good be called evil, a denial of our Lord’s great sacrifice?
Believers can turn away from worldly celebrations to again emphasize the true meaning of Easter. Instead of “Happy Easter” say “Happy Resurrection Day!” or greet each other like they did in the early church with “He is risen,” to which the response is, “He is risen, indeed!”
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