Today is the day before the start of Lent, celebrated by many as an opportunity to partake in life’s frivolity and excess before entering into the fasting season that leads up to Easter. Most people in the United States are probably familiar with Fat Tuesday (or in French, Mardi Gras) through the fabulous festivals that take place in New Orleans every year. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Nice, France and Goa, India are also known for having Fat Tuesday festivals full of music, drink, dancing and costumes. My favorite Fat Tuesday celebration comes from the UK, where they celebrate Pancake Tuesday by overeating on pancakes, butter and sugar for a whole day before beginning the fast. Almost any country with a large population of Christians that observe Lent (Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, and an increasing number of Protestants) has some sort of celebration to commemorate this day.
I’ve always felt that Fat Tuesday gets a bit of a bad rap. Like any good Catholic, I love Lent. I love the silence, the statues covered in purple cloth, the marathon liturgies and (yes) I even love fasting. I love the way that these little rituals of self denial make me aware of everything that I have to be thankful for. I love finding God in those quiet moments.
But it’s unhealthy to believe that we can find God in one extreme (self denial) and not the other (merriment). I like to think of God quietly walking my fast with me, present in the stillness of that season. But what sort of God do we have if she can’t also be found listening to jazz, drinking a bourbon and watching a good parade? Yes, Fat Tuesday needs to be celebrated responsibly, but I’d argue that fasting can be just as dangerous (and self-indulgent) as drinking if done to excess. So, let’s dance with God in New Orleans, watch her strut her stuff in a drag show in Rio, or stuff her silly with pancakes in Derry. Then, we can fast with God for forty days until we come back to the middle, renewed by these seasons of celebration and penance.