Today is Fat Tuesday. But you might now it by another name – Mardi Gras. (Which, in case you were wondering, is French for, well, Fat Tuesday.)
Most people associate Mardi Gras, unsurprisingly, with New Orleans and the 12 days of drunken, beaded debauchery leading up to it known as Carnival. Sure, the festival’s many parades are family friendly. But the same can’t be said for the city’s French Quarter, where the streets – particularly Bourbon Street – are clogged with masked revelers dripping with purple, green and gold finery this time of year. And beads, booze and enough bingeing to make Bacchus proud are the order of the day.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure it’s a good time. (I got a taste of it when spent New Year’s Eve 2000 in the Big Easy, which was kind of Mardi Gras-lite. I don’t think I could handle the real thing.)
Why the big party? Well, if like me you happen to be Catholic, it’s kind of a last hoorah. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent for Catholic’s the world over. Mardi Gras is our last big blow out bash before we fast, pray and sacrifice our way through the next 40 days until Easter.
Now, it’s been years since CCD, but I believe those 40 days are supposed to signify the time Jesus spent wandering in the wilderness resisting the temptations placed before him by Satan. (I’m sure my Aunt Kathleen will correct me if I’m wrong.)
So during Lent, we Catholics do a little resisting of temptation of our own. Most of us select something we love, or are inordinately fond of, and give it up for 40 days.
They always end up feeling like the longest 40 days of the year. Probably because there are actually 47 days in between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. (I guess we’re not supposed to count all the Sundays in between. Not that you’re given a free pass on those days or anything.)
Making the decision about what to give up for Lent is a big decision. After all, it has to be something dear enough that you actually feel like you’re making a sacrifice or it doesn’t count. I couldn’t, say, give up olives. Because, while for some that would be a privation, for me it would be a celebration. I can’t stand the things.
Some of the most “popular” Lenten vows are to abstain from eating chocolate or sweets, or giving up booze in one form or fashion.
Some people are far more creative. Take my niece Jessica, for example. When she was 7 or 8, she vowed to give up green peppers. Go ahead and laugh if you must, but trust me, for her it was a major sacrifice. I once worked with a woman who was a Bingo junkie of the worst kind. She didn’t give her favorite pastime up entirely, but did limit herself to once a week. (Considering she was going at least 3 times, that was huge.)
Not everyone can handle the pressure, of course. Many fall off the wagon before the 40 – ahem, 47 – day mark. Like my friend John, who last year swore off Facebook.
Poor thing didn’t even make it 36 hours before he cracked.
This will be the fourth year I’ve made what is for me the greatest of sacrifices during Lent. Yep, I’ve given up buying books.
Scoff all you want, but for me it really is the ultimate self-deprivation. It’s no secret that I love to read, and, as anyone who has ever helped me move can attest, books account for a large portion of my Earthly possessions. I’m always in search of more to add to my collection. It’s almost a compulsion, really.
I’m not giving up reading entirely, of course. Never. I wouldn’t even last 24 hours. No, I’m just giving up buying anymore. Which trust me, is sacrifice enough.
Sticking true to my vow from now until Easter will require a great deal of self-restraint. Which, sadly, is not one of my greatest strengths. No, I’ll have to avoid bookstores and basically any other outlet where books are sold for the next 40 days. I mean, 47 days.
To ensure I don’t fall off the book-buying wagon, I’m going to make good use of my Mardi Gras. While the rest of you are partying it up, I won’t be bellied up on some bar stool. No, I’ll be making a trip to the bookstore for a last minute fix, in the hopes that it will see me through until Easter.
Forget Bourbon Street! First Edition – here I come!
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