In the coming weeks you are most likely to see scenes from places like New Orleans where people, colorfully dressed in purple, gold and green proclaim “Laissez les bons temps rouler.” Or “Let the good times roll.” This French saying is often a slogan of the Mardi Gras Festival. But what is Mardi Gras, and why has it become such a time of debauchery?
Like many things in our culture, Mardi Gras has its roots in a Christian observance, but sadly those outside the church have made it into something completely devoid of its Christian origins. Mardi Gras, which literally means “fat Tuesday,” is observed the day before Ash Wednesday – which marks the beginning of the Christian season of Lent, a forty day period of fasting and reflection leading up to Easter. On that “fat Tuesday,” believers would finish off many of the food items that were not included in the dietary guide- lines for the Lenten fast, such as red meat, eggs, milk, cheese and products made from fat (like lard). These items would not last for the forty days of Lent and because they were not allowed during that period, the pru- dent thing to do was to find ways to eat them the day before Ash Wednesday. The “fattening” foods were con- sumed on “fat Tuesday.” The idea was not that the day be an excuse to be gluttonous, but to not be wasteful in allowing these food stuffs to go bad. A far cry from the current practice of unrestrained excess.
So what is a 21st Century Christian to do? Should we as Evangelical Protestants even worry about such things that are mostly associated with Catholic or more liturgical churches? I’m glad you asked, here’s my take. If you want to practice fasting (of any sort, be it food, social media, a hobby) in the days leading up to Easter as way of making more time to spend in prayer, Bible study or Christian service – I think that is a great idea. I think that using the Lenten season to reflect on the life, ministry, and death of Christ in anticipation for Easter is the very reason the church instituted the practice. As far as Mardi Gras – have some red beans and rice, some beignets and maybe some coffee with chicory – but leave the culinary excess, carnal revelry and all the other “trappings,” to the world. Such fleshly living patterns have no place in the life of a Christian, even if many in our culture see it as acceptable once a year.
And one last note – if you do decide to fast from food, during Lent or otherwise, you should always do so under the advice and supervision of your physician.