Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Hey, everybody, it's Mardi Gras season!

From 1994-1999, our spectacular friend Rob Staeger went to enormous efforts to make us compilation tapes of Mardi Gras music, featuring greats like Dr. John, the Neville Brothers, Daniel Lanois, and a lot of surprises. For the last few years, I've spent the month before Mardi Gras listening to the tapes. It takes that long to get through all six twice--plus, for sentimental reasons, I like to close with 1994's tape around midnight on Mardi Gras, when I'm stuffed to the gills with whatever food and drink I've made or purchased for the occasion. I try to overindulge to the point where fasting on Ash Wednesday becomes a welcome experience.

I'm a big fan of balance. Lent is long and--if you do it right--hard. All the self-denial, self-examination (it ain't pretty if you're honest), and repentance is good for the soul, like exercise for the body.

But let's be honest. Christianity, and Catholicism in particular (and in this context I'm including my own Episcopal Church as a Catholic church, since their spiritual and liturgical practices are nearly identical), tends to place a bit too much focus on sin and suffering. We're so bad as a species, we're told, that God had to come to earth and die in the most excruciating way available in order to save us. Our universal symbol is an execution device.

If you go to a Catholic or Episcopal (and probably Orthodox, but I don't know for sure) Church during Advent, you won't be singing Christmas carols. Advent is a time of preparation for the birth of Christ, and guess what we're supposed to do to prepare? Yep, repent! Advent is technically another penitential season, sort of a Lent Lite. Christmas decorations aren't hung in the churches (or in the homes of really strict observers, of which I have met none) until after the fourth Sunday in Advent, which can sometimes occur as late as Christmas Eve.

So I think in these dark times it's fair to stretch out the Mardi Gras celebration. We need to remember to celebrate the abundance of life in the middle of winter, when it seems like that damn sun will never again rise before 7 AM, and the fresh tomatoes you buy at the store are pale on the inside and taste like wet cardboard, and everybody's adhering so carefully to their Fad Diet of the Year that no one dares to even go out for a beer unless it's to watch football, and who cares, anyway, because the Ravens and Packers are both out of the playoffs and the Eagles will have a tough time against the Vikings and that rat bastard Randy Moss.

Mardi Gras season is four weeks of good music and good wine, like Christmas without the shopping. So take some time to enjoy life just because it's there, and at all costs, laissez les bons temps roulent!


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Jeri Smith-Ready is a Maryland author of books for teens and adults.

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