Mardi Gras is French for "Fat Tuesday", which reflects the practice of eating richer foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season. It officially became a holiday in 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII placed it on the Gregorian calendar as the day preceding Ash Wednesday, The holiday came to the United States in 1699, when Louis XIV sent two explorers to stake a claim for France in the New World. Legend has it that they arrived at the mouth of the Mississippi on March 3, which in that year was Fat Tuesday. They named the spot after the day, celebrated the event, and thus began what would become New Orleans most prominent holiday. As the years passed, Mardi Gras came to refer to the whole celebratory season starting after the Feast of the Epiphany (January 5) and ending with the start of Ash Wednesday.
In these weeks and days just before Lent, New Orleans becomes a magnet for gay men, with parties, parades and elaborate costumes being the order of the day. But New Orleans is not the only city to celebrate Mardi Gras, nor the only one that attracts gay participants. The picture that starts this post comes from a Mardi Gras celebration in Philadelphia.
In Sidney, Australia, "Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras" is a celebration that seems to have totally lost its roots as a celebration before Lent, and now runs through February into March.
At Easton Mountain, celebrations and solemn spiritual practices both have a place - with some events emphasizing one more than the other. Our Holy Week retreat, Journey to Easter (March 24-27), focuses on the unique perspective gay Christians have into the mysteries embodied in the final week of Lent. Reflections about this perspective may be a topic for a future blog post.