I am not Catholic. In fact, my personal experiences with Catholicism can be traced to a single wedding that I attended back in 1984. I am, however, a Louisianian. So tomorrow the devout Catholics can celebrate Ash Wednesday, but today is for me and my ilk. Laissez les bon temps rouler!!
Mardi Gras is steeped in Catholic beliefs, but leave it to the city of N'Awlins (that's "New Orleans" for those needing translation) to claim the twelve days leading up to Fat Tuesday -- as well as the day itself -- and turn it into one big philanthropic party. Carnival and Mardi Gras is when the people of New Orleans and South Louisiana throw themselves a party, paid for by the people, and gifts are showered onto the crowds.
To be fair, Mardi Gras is celebrated all over the world, and N'Awlins isn't the only place that throws a good party. But, I'm not from the rest of the world, so you get my slant. And today, my slant is a short list of sites:
New Orleans Mardi Gras explained Go learn something, Mister!
Mardi Gras 2009 with live video Go watch a parade, Mister!
History of New Orleans Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras Past and Present
Funny, how I'll rant about Christmas and vent about Valentine's Day, then laud Mardi Gras. No, I"m not nuts... although I do predict an eccentric old age. Here's the thing about this seeming hypocrisy: I was raised to understand that Mardi Gras was, yes, a time for parades and asking for trinkets ("Throw me something, Mister!"). But I understood that the money behind Mardi Gras came from people's pocket linings, not a government agency or a hand-out. This was the hard-working taxpayer taking their own money and throwing their community a party, complete with gifts to the parade attenders. If ever there was a spirit of community involvement, it was Mardi Gras. People set aside money, they built floats together, they made costumes, they threw a parade, and then they had a ball -- literally. The whole point is to enjoy life and celebrate abundance. I've always contented that point of view goes a long way to defining such intangible ideas as "abundance". If you have all you need, and are content with that, then life itself is abundant. If you have a huge case of materialism and are so deep in debt that you actually quit dreaming of your next big purchase, then you will never have enough, no matter how much you have.
For me, Thanksgiving is for being thankful and giving thanks. It's a time of intimacy, looking inward to find peace in having what you need, and appreciating what and who you have in your life. Mardi Gras, however, is about celebrating life. It's about dancing in the streets because you have your humor, your zest for life, and you want to share yourself with your community. It's about throwing everyone a party, just because you can. I love that even in financial times of hardship, the members of the New Orleans Krewes find a way to keep the parties alive, year after year. I love that the area-wide celebration lines the streets and anyone can attend, be them a local or a tourist. Sure, my reflection on Mardi Gras may be a bit utopian, but that's my point of view, and sometimes we all need a reason to celebrate life.