SHOULD CHRISTIANS CELEBRATE MARDI GRAS?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Should we as Christians celebrate Mardi Gras? Firstly, we need to define what “Mardi Gras” is, and then we need to search the Scriptures to see whether or not such a holiday is Biblical. As always, my goal is not to attack or condemn anyone, but to share God’s Word with you and let you come to your own conclusions about what God would have you to do. Compare it with the Scriptures and see what God says about the matter!
ORIGIN OF MARDI GRAS
The History Channel’s website (www.history.com) has the following opening remarks about Mardi Gras:
“A Christian holiday and popular cultural phenomenon, Mardi Gras dates back thousands of years to pagan spring and fertility rites. Also known as Carnival, it is celebrated in many countries around the world–mainly those with large Roman Catholic populations–on the day before the religious season of Lent begins. Brazil, Venice and New Orleans play host to some of the holiday’s most famous public festivities, drawing thousands of tourists and revelers every year.” (Bold emphasis mine.)
“Mardi Gras” is French for “Fat Tuesday.” From where did this celebration originate? According to secular historians, not Bible believers, Mardi Gras “dates back thousands of years to pagan spring and fertility rites!” In other words, even people who do not believe the Bible understand that Mardi Gras was never Christian; it was simply a pagan celebration given a “Christian” appearance. The History Channel’s website continues:
“According to historians, Mardi Gras dates back thousands of years to pagan celebrations of spring and fertility, including the raucous [wild, disorderly] Roman festivals of Saturnalia and Lupercalia. When Christianity arrived in Rome, religious leaders decided to incorporate these popular local traditions into the new faith, an easier task than abolishing them altogether. As a result, the excess [gluttony] and debauchery [wickedness] of the Mardi Gras season became a prelude to Lent, the 40 days of penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Along with Christianity, Mardi Gras spread from Rome to other European countries, including France, Germany, Spain and England.” (Bold emphasis mine.)
“Traditionally, in the days leading up to Lent, merrymakers would binge on all the meat, eggs, milk and cheese that remained in their homes, preparing for several weeks of eating only fish and fasting. In France, the day before Ash Wednesday came to be known as Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday.” The word “carnival,” another common name for the pre-Lenten festivities, may also derive from this vegetarian-unfriendly custom: in Medieval Latin, carnelevarium means to take away or remove meat.”
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Today, Mardi Gras is celebrated in Roman Catholic countries as well as here in Louisiana (mostly in the city of New Orleans). Mardi Gras is marked by partying, drunkenness, gluttony (overeating), parades, costumes and masks, eating a “King Cake,” and throwing beads and other trinkets. A few years ago, I wrote a Bible study about Mardi Gras titled, “God’s Grace on Parade.” I have reproduced it in its entirety below, in hope and prayer that you can profit from it and/or use it for others’ benefit regarding this time of year.
GOD’S GRACE ON PARADE
by Shawn Brasseaux
Here in Louisiana, a state dominated by Roman Catholicism, Mardi Gras is perhaps the most celebrated festival. Mardi Gras, French for “Fat Tuesday,” is a day when religious people consume as much alcohol as they want, eat as much rich and fatty foods as they want, and party as much as they want. While I love the dear people who participate in these events, I, as a Bible-believing Christian, object to such activities. Please understand that the following study is not intended to belittle or attack, but to provide sound doctrine regarding a matter that many enjoy but few understand.
A BRIEF SUMMARIZATION OF FAT TUESDAY, ASH WEDNESDAY, AND LENT
Religious people are told that, after they have “sinned all they want” on Fat Tuesday, to repent of that wickedness, to mourn, and turn to God. On the day after Fat Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, clergymen place ashes on the foreheads of the church members as a sign of their “repentance.” “Lent” is the 40-day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. During these weeks, religious people endure “penitential preparation” for Easter Sunday. They are encouraged to “get closer to God” and make their lives more closely resemble Jesus’ life. How?
Their clergy urge them to pray, do penance (suffer and apologize for their sins), have repentance (feel sorry for their sins and/or turn from their sins), give alms (give material goods/money to others), and seek self-denial (temporarily give up luxuries such as a hobby or favorite food). These dear souls are even told they cannot eat meat on the Fridays during Lent (fasting). Did you know that God’s Word says that “commanding to abstain from meats” is a “doctrine of devils” (1 Timothy 4:1-3)?
So, why do they observe Lent? They claim to be following “Jesus” when He fasted for 40 days (Matthew 4:2; Luke 4:2). To Satan’s delight, Mardi Gras appears so innocent and it hides behind the cloak of religion. People are completely blinded regarding Mardi Gras, just like they are regarding much of the other activities in “Christian” circles today. Let me further demonstrate this.
THE DECEPTION AND PAGANISM OF MARDI GRAS EXPOSED
Why is Mardi Gras a period of drunkenness, overeating, and partying followed by a time of fasting? Historians tell us that Mardi Gras can be traced back to the pagan Roman festivals Saturnalia and Lupercalia, wild and shameful celebrations of fertility and springtime. Lupercalia was noted for its orgies and sexual excesses while Saturnalia was celebrated with overeating and revelry (drunken parties). And then, after the excess, the pagans fasted. Does that sound familiar? Is that not what Mardi Gras is all about? Despite its “Christian” veneer, history claims that Mardi Gras is not a Christian celebration at all. Pagans originally celebrated it, albeit they called it other names (Lupercalia and Saturnalia).
How did Mardi Gras become associated with Christianity? Well, when Christianity came to Rome in the first centuries A.D., church leaders knew that it would be impossible to convince the pagans to abandon their ungodly practices, worthless idols, and unbiblical beliefs. What was the solution to uniting the Roman Empire? The church leaders simply incorporated that heathenism into Christianity! This is the origin of several “Christian” holidays, including Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras, Easter, Halloween, and Christmas.
A few weeks ago, a local Roman Catholic priest wrote a column in my local newspaper. The poor soul actually defended Mardi Gras as something godly, withholding the historical facts that he should have known. He claimed, “Getting drunk and wreckless [sic] is not the spirit of Mardi Gras in its origin. Rather, it was to tap into the rhythm of life of celebrating and mourning, of eating and fasting, of laughing and crying. It is what the author of the Book of Ecclesiastes was inspired to write….” Basically, he argued that since Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 says there is “a time for” everything, Mardi Gras is no exception! He concluded his article with, “As long as there is no sin, celebrate Mardi Gras with gusto so the 40 days of Lent will be entered into with willingness and even a sense of joy.” (Bold emphasis mine.) According to him, you can celebrate Mardi Gras, a sinful holiday, without committing sin. Shame! Shame! Shame!
I wrote a letter to the editor, and surprisingly, it was published. In that letter, I objected to this priest’s statements and pointed out that his entire argument was misleading. Some may argue that this was an honest mistake on his part, so be it known, that, to my knowledge, that priest made no attempt to correct his untruthful statements. He never recanted or retracted his claims.
More recently, this same Catholic priest wrote yet another column in our newspaper, and this time, his topic was Lent. He wrote, “Marked on this coming Wednesday with ashes as a reminder that we are dust and unto dust we all shall return, we enter this season to reflect on how best we can walk with Jesus, knowing that ‘if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him’ (Romans 6:8). This is a holy time—a time to believe more and more in the good news of Jesus.” Notice again how Mardi Gras and Lent is associated with Jesus Christ. Furthermore, Lent is a “holy” time? Well, as long as we compare Lent to the shameful carousel on the previous Tuesday, I guess Lent IS holy!
MARDI GRAS ON PARADE
Quite frankly, religious people use Mardi Gras as a license to sin. Mardi Gras parades, complete with bead tossing from floats, involve alcohol, gluttony, and dancing. Sexual acts—including exposing certain body parts—are prevalent. People just seem to lose all temperance, doing whatever they want and how much they want. And, may we add masks are donned as to keep their identities secret! When the parades are over, the streets are covered with vomit and polluted with literally tons of litter. Do you know what is most pitiful? They claim that this is a “holy time!” Now do you see why Jeremiah 17:9 explains that man’s heart is “wicked,” “deceitful above all things?” They have deceived themselves into thinking that ungodly activity honors God, since they will confess it and repent of it all the next day! Sadly, there is no shame whatsoever. The Mardi Gras parades are broadcast on television and published in our newspapers. While wearing cross necklaces (of all things!) these revelers drink and party. And guess what? The media even refers to them as “revelers.” Again, they are open about their sin.
GOD’S GRACE ON PARADE
Every Mardi Gras, I am reminded of a verse in Romans: “…Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (5:20). Mardi Gras is sinful in that it involves drunkenness and sexual promiscuity. But it is all the more wicked because this blatant sin is committed in the name of “God!” The Mardi Gras colors purple, green, and gold represent justice, faith, and power, respectively. Again, Mardi Gras appears to be “Christian.”
In addition, a notable confection of Mardi Gras is the “king cake,” which is decorated with green, purple, and gold icing. It symbolizes the “three kings” who visited the baby Jesus. A plastic baby is even hidden in the king cake. Regardless of all its biblical allusions (ILLUSIONS!), Mardi Gras is still evil and anti-God.
Despite all this sin, even when it is committed in the name of “God,” the Lord Jesus Christ in His abounding grace and mercy, continues to tolerate mankind. Year after year, Mardi Gras Season after Mardi Gras Season, mankind parades his sin, and God parades His grace. God holds back that wrath that mankind so rightfully deserves. People believe they are getting away with their sin, but the Bible says this about their “payday.” “[God] Who will render to every man according to his deeds: Unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation, and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile;” (Romans 2:6,8,9). There is “pleasure of sin,” but the Good Book says, it is but “for a season” (Hebrews 11:25). “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7).
WHERE THE SAINTS STAND
Throughout my short life, I have personally known scores of “Christians” who find Mardi Gras totally acceptable. They believe it is godly, when, in fact, the Bible exposes “revelry” as sin, a “work of the flesh” (Galatians 5:19-21). Even the Apostle Peter—who Rome claims was its “first pope”—disagrees with and condemns reveling (1 Peter 4:3). Peter forbade “excess of wine, revellings, and banquetings” (1 Peter 4:3). Galatians 5:19-21 claims that “drunkenness” and “revellings” are “works of the flesh.” Paul wrote, “Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess” (Ephesians 5:18). The Holy Spirit, speaking through the Apostles Peter and Paul, was clearly against Mardi Gras reveling and drunkenness. So why do we have professing Christians engaging the very activities that God the Holy Spirit condemned?!
Mardi Gras is completely offensive and unacceptable to God and to those who have trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Christians should speak out against such foolishness. It mocks our Saviour… even more so because they commit sin using HIS name!!!! As Christians, we are taught to “deny” the activities that accompany Mardi Gras.
Titus 2:11-15 explains: “ For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,  Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;  Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;  Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.  These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.”
There is nothing biblical about Mardi Gras. It is not “sober, righteous, or godly.” It does not reflect the grace life that we have in Jesus Christ. Mardi Gras entails riotous and careless living. God’s grace teaches us Christians not to sin, to lead lives that are responsible and temperate. Sin is not who we are anymore. Romans 6:11-15 says: “ Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.  Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.  For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.  What then? shall we continue in sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.”
Can the Bible be any clearer? Mardi Gras is not for Christians.
So, perhaps I have gotten your attention, and have made you see things you never realized before. To the Lord alone be the glory if that is true! Maybe you are a Mardi Gras reveler. Perhaps you are still dead in your trespasses and sins and destitute of eternal life. The key is not to stop the Mardi Gras revelry in your own strength. Come to God as you are and He will take care of the rest. He will clean up your life and give you peace, joy, righteousness, and love. God accepts us in His Son, the beloved, Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:6). The wonderful Gospel of the Grace of God declares that God did for you at Calvary what you could never do: “Christ died for our sins, He was buried, and He was raised again the third day” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Jesus Christ shed His sinless blood and died to put away all of your sins, Mardi Gras revelry included.
No fasting, no penance, no confession, and no self-denial will ever merit the favor of God. By trying to please God in your own strength, you will only condemn yourself. You are a sinner, so you cannot do anything to please God. But, because you are a sinner, God can save you. You can be made “the righteousness of God in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21). How?
“But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5). God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for everything that is wrong with you. Why not trust in Jesus Christ alone, that His finished crosswork is sufficient to pay for your sins? God has forgiven you and you do not have to go to hell! Come to God as you are, and by faith, rest in Christ Jesus alone as your Saviour. If you do, God will save you forever, and make a trophy of His grace. And then YOUR life will be God’s grace on parade!
WHAT IS THE CHRISTIAN TO DO?
Perhaps a dear Christian reading this, would reply, “Oh, Brother Shawn, do not judge! We are under grace not law! Do not be legalistic! I am a Christian and I see nothing wrong with Mardi Gras parades and my having a good time there. I do not drink alcohol there, I do not riot there, et cetera, so I do not see what the big deal is.”
Over the years, many dear friends, lost and saved alike, have posted pictures on social media of the parades that they attended. What is most troubling is that yes, Christians are seen in these questionable situations. Dear friends, we need to be careful as to what type of message we are sending with regards to our actions. Even if we are behaving, not getting drunk or being rowdy, why put ourselves in the midst of those who misbehaving? If it is a holiday known for its drunkenness, rioting, vulgarity, and religious nonsense, and it is, why do we Bible-believing Christians want to participate in it at all? Is not saying, “I go to the Mardi Gras parades but do not drink or act vulgar” just as ridiculous as claiming, “I frequent the local bar or pub, not to drink, but to socialize?” Why set yourself up for stumbling into sin, dear friend and Christian?
While people are free to do as they want, God’s Word has already judged the matter. I am just repeating what the Bible says, so you need not get angry with me. Friend, talk to God about it, but He has already made up His mind. We are to “use not our liberty for an occasion to the flesh” (Galatians 5:13). Just because we are under grace and not law does not mean that God does not care how we live (do you see why denominationalists object to our beliefs by saying, “You people use grace as a license to sin?”). In fact, we should not be using grace as permission to do things that would offend a fellow brother or sister in Christ. If our Christian testimony means anything to us at all, we will “abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22)—if the activity appears bad, then we should avoid it. Furthermore, for the sake of the spiritual wellbeing of another Christian, we need to be sure we are not using our liberty to destroy those for whom Christ died!
The most non-legalistic person in all of the Bible, the Apostle Paul, wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:12: “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” While we do not have a bunch of rules and regulations to follow in this the Dispensation of Grace, there are still activities that are “not expedient” (not profitable or beneficial). Later on, the Holy Spirit penned through Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:23-24: “ All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.  Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth.” Not all activities build up others; we need to keep other people in mind, especially Christians, before we engage in any behavior. Friends, we must keep that in mind, lest we cause them to stumble in similar sins. Christian living is not selfish living.
We read in Romans 14:19-21: “ Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.  For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.  It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.” Again, dearly beloved, we should engage in behavior that edifies (builds up) others. As a Christian, it offends me to see other Christians participating in pagan Mardi Gras celebrations, parades abounding with immature, riotous, vulgar, drunken, religious people. I can only imagine what kind of stumbling-block Mardi-Gras-celebrating Christians are for Christians struggling with alcoholism or sexual sins. Just some things to keep in mind, dear readers.
In conclusion, our purpose here has been to enlighten you about Mardi Gras so that you can make an informed decision. It is certainly not our goal to “have dominion over your faith;” our desire is to be “helpers of your joy” (2 Corinthians 1:24). We will not dictate to you what you can and cannot do regarding Mardi Gras, but we do offer this study for your consideration. Our goal is to have your faith rest in an intelligent understanding of God’s Word, so that you may have joy and peace in believing God’s Word (Romans 15:13). Let us use this time of year on the religious calendar often used to “live in sin and abuse grace,” as opportunity to share the wonderful news of the new life we have in Christ, and the new life that they can have in Jesus Christ, too, if they trust Him alone as their personal Saviour. This is the wonderful Gospel of the Grace of God, and it alone is the life-giving message that lost people need to hear—at Carnival-time and every other time!
NOTE: The reader is greatly encouraged to search the internet to learn more about Mardi Gras’ history, and not take this author’s word for anything.
You may also see http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/mardi-gras.
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