Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Mardi Gras, Spring and What's Next?





One of the biggest celebrations that happens every spring is Mardi Gras, but where all other holidays happen on the same date every year, this one and Easter change every year. Why is that? The date of Mardi Gras moves every year for the same reason that Easter moves every year. Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday. Why Tuesday? Because it leads into Ash Wednesday, and that is the beginning of Lent, the 40 day period that leads up to Easter.

You see, every year the church sets the date for Easter according to this ancient formula. Easter occurs on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the Spring Equinox. Hmmm......Are you wondering how they came up with that formula?

Ancient fertility rituals. That is why the we see rabbits and eggs all over the place. Symbols of fertility, of birth and rebirth. When I lived in Atlanta, we always had our gardens planted by the Spring Equinox. Prior to that we had given thought as to what wanted to plant this year. On another level, spring is also the time of year when we would decide what seeds we would be planting in our lives for what else we wanted to grow this year. For some people that might be a new relationship, for others a new job, a new place to live, a new course of study, a new hobby or recreational activity. These are all things we want to have grow in our lives this year in and out of the garden. One is the garden of our lives and the other is the garden in the yard.

Out here in Colorado, where I now live, the weather is different and people do not plant until after Mother's Day. However, the same principles still apply. Spring is the time for planting the seeds of change. Even though the garden in the yard comes later, we still have other aspects of spring here. People have Mardi Gras celebrations here, same as they do in other parts of the world.

Going back to Mardi Gras, why is there a Fat Tuesday? In the old Catholic church tradition, people would have one last blowout and eat all their favorite foods and drinks before beginning the fasting of the Lenten season. In the old tradition, it was part of the season that people would make some sort of sacrifice during Lent which would end with the Easter feast.

The huge exotic, extensive and elaborate Carnival celebrations of Brazil, Latin America and the Caribbean islands are simply bigger versions of Mardi Gras. Who doesn't enjoy a great party?

We get the name Easter, by the way, from the ancient fertility goddess by that name (Eostre or Ostara) of the Germanic people. It is also said to tie back to Astarte and Ishtar, ancient Mesopotamian (Assyrian, Babylonian, Sumerian) fertility goddesses.

Metaphorically, in the Christ story, Easter is the rebirth of the son. Spring Equinox is the rebirth of the Sun. The amount of daylight begins to increase every day beginning at this time, and at the Fall Equinox, the amount of sunlight every day begins to decrease.

There are a few lessons worth noting in all this overlap between the various religions.

For one, the combination of prayer and fasting to sharpen one's focus exists in Buddhist, Muslim, Native American and Pagan religions. Muslims have Ramadan, Native Americans have vision quests and Odin hung from the World Tree in order to receive the runes.

As we consider those seeds that we are planting in our lives, there may be some sacrifice involved in nurturing those seeds into growth.

For example, we may have to save some money to afford something we want, or acquire some new skills or knowledge in order to be able to do a different kind of work, or go out and meet new people in order to find a new relationship. If we want to build up our physical strength and health, we need to be very conscious about what and how we eat and consistent about getting some exercise.

During such an experience, there is a spirit of rededication, increased focus of our vision for our future and renewed commitment to our goals.

These deliberate choices we make are how we determine our purposes and goals in life. We do not discover purposes accidentally, and no one else can decide our direction for us. We choose to go out with this person. We choose to do this kind of work. The sum of our experiences shapes who we are as a person. Our previous thoughts and actions got us where we are today. The thoughts and actions we implement from this day forward will get us to where we will be tomorrow.

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