Editorial: Mardi Gras

This week was the combination of two opposite holidays that at first glance don’t make sense together, but when you think about it — don’t they?
Fat Tuesday, or as it is known in some Christian religions, Shrove Tuesday, is the day before Ash Wednesday. According to Catholicism.com, “Shrove” is the past tense of the word “shrive,” which means to confess. Because Ash Wednesday is the start of Lent, a time of fasting, sacrifice and mourning to prepare for Easter, many Christians wanted to start it with a clean slate.
However, because Ash Wednesday always meant giving up many indulgent excesses for several weeks before Easter, it also developed into a day of excess eating (and probably drinking.) Pancakes seem to be a particular Shrove Tuesday theme. Thus, it also became know as “Fat Tuesday,” or “Mardi Gras.”
According to MardiGrasNewOrleans.com, the history of Mardi Gras can be traced back to medieval Europe. While New Orleans celebrated it shortly before it was established in the early 1700’s, it did not become its current form of parades and carnival atmosphere right away. It took another century for the floats to be constructed entirely in New Orleans and in 1875, Fat Tuesday was established as an official Louisiana state holiday.
Whether you call it Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras, the day before Ash Wednesday has evolved into a festive day for many, whether for religious reasons or not. From New Orleans to Connecticut to the rest of the world, it has become a day to lose inhibitions in one way or another, indulge in food and drink, and for some, to party hard.
There are personal benefits to both behaviors, if we don’t take them to extreme — whether it is because of faith, or just our own self-examination. Taking time to evaluate ourselves, check our diet to see if we are eating healthy, cut out what’s bad for us for a week, if not for Lent. Depriving ourselves and sacrificing makes the indulgences so much sweeter.
On the flip side, taking time to enjoy our lives without inhibitions (within reason), without worrying about tomorrow — without worrying, period — is necessary for the soul. Take a mental health day and skip folding the laundry and cleaning the house and watch movies or just read all day. It’s important to give ourselves a break — go to that restaurant you’ve wanted to but can’t justify the expense. Get the better bottle of wine. Shut off the iPhone and go sledding with the kids on a snow day. It’s worth it.
There are lessons to be learned beyond those of religion in Fat Tuesday, Ash Wednesday and Lent — life lessons that need not only be practiced on days which bear these names.
—S. Shultz