Celebrating Mardi Gras in the church

Masked WandaAs we are in a month of celebrating Black history, a question that is often unclear is the celebration of Mardi Gras in our churches.

Many people who are unaware of its origin associate Mardi Gras with depictions from New Orleans that celebrate with beer, beads and what appears to be a grand celebration of ‘sin!’ However, it is not the celebration of sin but the celebration of Lent.

Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday, refers to events of the carnival celebrations beginning on or after the Epiphany or King’s Day and culminating on the day before Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras is French for ‘Fat Tuesday,’ reflecting the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting during the Lenten season.

Related popular practices are associated with celebrations before the fasting and religious obligations associated with the season of Lent. The date of Fat Tuesday also coincides with that of celebrations of what is called Shrove Tuesday, from the word ‘shrive’ meaning ‘confess.’

Popular practices on Mardi Gras include wearing masks and costumes, overturning social conventions, dancing, parades, debauchery, and much more. Similar expressions to Mardi Gras appear in other European languages sharing the Christian tradition, as it is associated with the religious requirement for confession before Lent begins.

The festival season varies from city to city, as some traditions consider Mardi Gras the entire period between Epiphany or Twelfth Night and Ash Wednesday. Others treat the final three-day period before Ash Wednesday as the Mardi Gras.

Food and costumes play an important part in the celebration of Mardi Gras. Pancakes are a traditional food associated with Mardi Gras in some areas. Pancakes and related fried breads or pastries made with sugar, fat, and eggs are also traditionally consumed at this time in many parts of Latin America and the Caribbean. Other places celebrate with the foods relative to New Orleans, such as red beans and rice and fish. All celebrate with the King’s Cake that is baked with a ‘small plastic baby’ inside as a representation of the King.

While some ‘go all out’ with their costumes and decorations, others celebrate with decorations that also reflect the colors associated with Mardi Gras: purple, gold, green and white.

Lent is a special season in the church when Christians get ready to celebrate Easter. It consists of 40 days of preparation before Easter. During this time, Christians are urged to study the Bible and pray. They are also to think about their lives and share their belongings, gifts and skills.

A quick history of the pretzel

sp-pretzel-2-5oz_2_hrMany years ago when Christians did not consume meat, milk or eggs during Lent, bakers would bake bread that did not include those ingredients. It was a bread dough made of flour, salt and water.

They rolled the dough out into long strips and shaped them like arms crossed in prayer. In Europe the bread was called ‘brezel.’

The word was translated from Latin to mean ‘little arms.’ The word ‘brezel’ became ‘pretzel’ in English. Eating pretzels during Lent reminds Christians to pray.

The three sections formed by the ‘crossed arms’ represent the Trinity: God as Creator, God through Jesus and God the Holy Spirit.