Ah, Mardi Gras.
A time of revelry and celebration, a time when the streets are alive with music and laughter.
But what comes after the party?
After all the beads have been thrown and all the king cakes have been eaten, what comes next? The answer is Lent, of course!
But what is Lent?
And why does it come after Mardi Gras? Let's take a look.
What is Lent?
Lent is a period of fasting and prayer that takes place during the weeks (not counting Sundays - more on this later) leading up to Easter Sunday. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday, just before Easter Sunday (more on this later).
During this period of time, many Christians abstain from certain activities or foods (like giving up chocolate for 40 days and 40 nights) as an act of self-discipline or penitence. This period of fasting is meant to reflect on Jesus’s 40 days spent in the desert preparing for his ministry. The goal of these practices is to remember Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice on the cross and to prepare for his resurrection (more on this later).
The traditions associated with Lent vary from denomination to denomination. Some Christians choose to give up specific behaviors or foods that they feel are distracting them from their spiritual journey during this season. Other churches might observe a modified Ash Wednesday service or even a "Solemnity of Ashes" service, wherein ashes are placed on worshippers' foreheads as a reminder of human mortality and repentance. In addition to these formal practices, many Christians also choose to engage in personal activities such as Bible study or prayer in order to draw closer to God during Lent.
Why Should You Care?
It can be easy to forget about Lent amidst all the hubbub surrounding Mardi Gras festivities and Easter egg hunts; however, it’s important not to overlook its significance. This season offers us an opportunity to take pause and reflect on our lives - both as individuals and collectively - while preparing our hearts for Easter Sunday's celebration of new life in Christ Jesus!
Whether you choose to participate formally or informally in traditional Lenten practices, it can be a meaningful way to prepare your heart for what's ahead this springtime season!
Why Does Lent Follow Mardi Gras?
The idea behind combining these two seemingly different holidays is that we should enjoy our last moments of indulgence before embarking on a journey toward spiritual renewal through prayer and fasting during the Lenten season. In other words:
party hard now so you can be prepared for spiritual growth later!
So, there we have it: what is Lent and why does it follow Mardi Gras? As we can see, these two holidays are closely linked together despite seeming like complete opposites at first glance. While Mardi Gras encourages us to let loose with our friends one last time before beginning our fasts for Lenten season, both holidays ultimately serve as an important reminder to appreciate life's joys while also setting aside some time for self-reflection and spiritual growth as well.
So don't forget - have fun at your next Mardi Gras celebration but also, don't forget about Lent - it's an important part of the faith journey toward spiritual renewal leading up to Easter!
Now, wait a minute....
What if you're not religious?
You don't have to be religious or go to church to practice and have spiritual growth. I practice spiritual growth every weekend under a sunny blue-sky elbow deep in dirt in my garden. Or on a walk. Nature is my church - it's where I go to ponder and reflect, do some self-examination, and set goals.
So now, let's go back a bit...
This year Mardi Gras ends on Feb 21 and Ash Wednesday is Feb 22, when the Lent season begins - and marks the start of the days leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ - to Thursday, April 6th. He was crucified on Good Friday, April 7th - and was resurrected on Easter Sunday, April 9th (based on this year's calendar dates since Easter is a moving Holiday because of the Paschal Full Moon and vernal equinox).
We also discussed how the Lent season of fasting is meant to reflect on Jesus’s 40 days spent in the desert preparing for his ministry.
But Jesus was resurrected on Easter and then went to the desert for 40 days and 40 nights - he did not fast and pray for 40 days before he was crucified - he went to the desert for 40 days and 40 nights AFTER he was resurrected from the dead and before he ascended to heaven.
Ash Wednesday (the start of Lent) takes place 46 days before Easter.
Clear as mud?
Though Lent does begin 46 days before Easter it is observed from Monday-Saturday each week because remember that Sundays don't count? That's because every Sunday is viewed as sacred or a celebration. Therefore, Lent is observed for a total of 40 days.
But why do we Lent fast before Easter instead of AFTER?
The purpose is to prepare Christians for renewal.
After partying hard on Mardi Gras, they go straight into Lent - the "Great Fast" - and give up their comforts and focus on their spiritual practice and repentance so that by Easter they experience a renewal of their soul and are ready to accept spiritual growth!
Like a spiritual "Spring Cleaning" of their soul.
Regardless of your beliefs - whether it's praying and going to church, spending time with friends and family, or seeking some quiet solitude while watching trees sway in the wind - do what makes you happy and feeds your soul.