Easter is the most important holiday on the Christian calendar. It coincides with Passover and occurs each year on the first Sunday following the first Full Moon after the vernal equinox. Therefore, Easter could happen on any given Sunday between March 22 and April 25 depending on the year.
The 40 days prior to Easter are called Lent. The 40 days represent the time in Jesus Christ’s life spent in the wilderness before he began his public ministry, where he was tempted by the Devil.
Lent is a time for self-denial and sacrifice, prayer and penitence and reflection. It begins with Ash Wednesday. But that day before Ash Wednesday gets the most notice: Fat Tuesday. Unfortunately, the world never seems to take note of the religious significance of this particular day.
Fat Tuesday is the English translation of the French “Mardi Gras.” The largest celebrations in the world can be seen in Rio de Janiero (“Carnivale”) and, closer to home, along the Gulf Coast in places like Mobile and New Orleans.
On that day, there are celebrations all over the world to mark the end of Ordinary Time for now, saying farewell to old ways with overindulgence in food and drink. Cleaning out the pantry and cabinet, finishing off all the sugary, bad-for-you food (and, for many, the remainder of their liquor) is the goal of Mardi Gras.
Pancakes and King Cakes are consumed on this day. There are thousands of parades from one Krewe or another. This year, a 330-foot float, the largest ever, appeared in New Orleans. Even towns with no connection to the original Mardi Gras — such as Wetumpka and Millbrook — have started staging parades. Schools in the Mobile area let out for an entire week in celebration of Mardi Gras.
When people mention Fat Tuesday, it sounds like a holiday soaked in grease. However, I think of it as a chance for a fresh start, for those New Year’s Resolutions to get a second chance.
As we start this 40-day period, consider fast and abstinence as part of a self-denial plan. It’s a crazy world, and occasionally we need to slow down and think about making it better, one person at a time, with a little self-sacrifice and soul searching.
Michael Bird is a choral director for Tallassee City Schools and cohosts “The Saturday Morning Show with Michael Bird and Scott Adcock” on WACQ-AM 580 and FM 98.5.