From a Jewish perspective, is there anything wrong with attending a Mardi Gras celebration? Administrators Note: For answers to a somewhat similar question regarding Halloween, see on the JVO website http://www.jewishvaluesonline.org/question.php?id=319].
Thank you for your thoughtful question. The roots of the Mardi Gras celebration and carnival comes from preparing for the Christian season of Lent. Mardi Gras, French for Fat Tuesday, takes place the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Lent, which takes place 46 days prior to Easter, is meant to serve as penitential preparation through prayer and self-denial, among other things. In preparation for Easter, Christians refrain from certain luxuries. For this reason, the Mardi Gras celebration prior to Lent is an indulgence in such luxuries. There is no doubt that this celebration is directly related to Christian ideology, making it inappropriate for a Jew to participate in such a celebration.
Living in a world full of a diverse spectrum of faiths, it is common for people of other faiths to attend celebrations, lifecycle events, and holidays of peers or loved ones from other faiths. This does not mean one is participating in the celebration. Rather, he or she is attending the event and supporting the loved one’s celebration of such an event. However, it would be troubling for a Jew to actively participate in such a celebration or ritual that emphasizes Christian ideology that contradicts Jewish beliefs.
I also recognize that many who celebrate Mardi Gras do so – much like Halloween or Valentine’s Day – not because of its religious roots, but instead because of it festive nature and societal acceptance. In fact, many Mardi Gras celebrations take place for several weeks and the term Mardi Gras refers to the endless partying rather than the day immediately prior to the beginning of the season of Lent.
What Mardi Gras has become in society though makes it all the more problematic to participate in such celebrations from a Jewish perspective. Mardi Gras has become an opportunity for parades, beads, costumes, and parties rather than celebrating the Christian Fat Tuesday. It has also become synonymous with public intoxication, public nudity, debauchery, and sexual promiscuity. Tzniut, modesty, is a core value of Jewish tradition. While various movements, denominations, and perspectives may interpret tzniut differently, I think we can all agree that there is nothing modest about exposing one’s nakedness for the sake of beads or trinkets. Furthermore, public pressure to participate in such
acts, either sober or while intoxicated, can very well be construed as sexual molestation and abuse! Judaism celebrates that each individual is made B’Tzelem Elohim, in God’s image. If so, we must treat our bodies with the respect that they deserve. Thus, participating in such immodest acts by both men and women – regardless of the Christian roots of the Mardi Gras celebration – is inappropriate.
From a Jewish perspective, is there anything wrong with attending a Mardi Gras celebration? Administrators Note: For answers to a somewhat similar question regarding Halloween, see on the JVO website http://www.jewishvaluesonline.org/question.php?id=319&cprg=%2Fsearch.php%3Fsearchtxt%3Dsaint%2Bbased%26what%3DA].
The festival of Mardi Gras has a long history. Its origins probably pre-date Christianity and are rooted in pagan fertility festivals. One history I consulted (http://www.neworleansonline.com/neworleans/mardigras/mardigrashistory/mghistory.html) noted that it might have origins in the ancient Roman Lupercalian festival. Early Church leaders couldn't get their formerly pagan converts to give up the festival, so they imbued it with Christian meaning and associated it with the last bit of merrymaking before Lent. Today's celebrations, such as the New Orleans Mardi Gras, are a pretty secular affair. I don't see any harm in attending a party or watching a parade, no more than I have a problem taking my kids trick-or-treating or getting flowers from my husband on Valentine's Day. For me, the line is drawn when we cross over into observing a custom that is inextricably linked to someone else's religious tradition. So a Christmas tree, or an Easter egg hunt, which convey meaning and carry symbolism inextricable from their religious meaning, would be going too far.
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