Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Enter the Dragon

Today I found out that dragon floats are a traditional feature of Mardi Gras.
This one's a doozie, isn't it? I think it's all the same dragon.
I can only imagine the effort that went into constructing him. Do they keep him year to year, do you think? Where? Does anyone own a tarp that big?

Or does he fly off to some primordial Mardi Gras Dragonland to wait out another year?


When I flipped my calendar today, I noticed that this isn't just any old Tuesday. Y'all know what Mardi Gras is, right? Those folks in Nawlins sure know how to put on a party.

Most of us have some vague idea that it's tied to Easter, but are not sure how.

Well, they'd be right. But more than that, it's tied to the cycles of the moon.

Ever wonder why Easter's on a different Sunday every year? Why doesn't it settle on one particular date, like Christmas or Ground Hog Day?

Because it falls on the first Sunday after the full moon, that's why, and cuz the moon's on a four-week cycle, sometimes it's earlier, and sometimes it's later. Ask the Chinese, who celebrate the Lunar New Year in a similar way.

You may ask: what does this have to do with Christianity? Nothing. What does it have to do with paganism and goddess-worship and Druids all that moon-related stuff? Plenty. The early Christians were smart enough to graft their big event of the year on a very old tree.

Before Mardi Gras even came along, it was called Shrove Tuesday. Most Christians don't have any idea what Shrove Tuesday actually means, except that there's always a pancake supper in the church basement, that damp place that always smells like the inside of a pumpkin, with undercooked pancakes on paper plates and kids spilling syrup and running around on a sugar high.

OK then, Shrove Tuesday is the beginning of six weeks of Lent. So what's Lent? Some people have some idea that it has to do with fasting and/or self-abnegation of some kind. Then comes Good Friday (the day Our Lord was nailed to a post to die: so why is it called Good?), and Easter Sunday, the miraculous day of Resurrection.

But it all has to be carefully timed to the cycles of the moon.

My bit of research into Shrove Tuesday was strange indeed. "Shrove" is the past tense of "shrive", which means to confess one's sins, to be penitent and grovel for forgiveness, and hopefully be absolved ("hey, I had a bad childhood"). If one is so absolved, they are described as "shriven". An unattractive word, if you ask me, resembling "shrivel", "shrine", and "shorn".

So what does this have to do with all those pancakes? Plenty. Before Lent, the traditional time of fasting, you had to use up every bit of fat in the house so the next six weeks would be a culinary disaster, everything sticking to the pan cuzzathefact they didn't have them-all Teflon thingy-dings then.

So yuz gorged yourself on sweet carbs on Fat Tuesday (which is a reference to the cooking fat, though in Nawlins it can have other meanings), then go into a long stretch of dire austerity. But I have a problem with all this. If you've been shriven already, why fast? Haven't you suffered enough?

It's hard to square stacks of oozing pancakes, Dixieland bands and drunken riots with the dreary plainsong of Gregorian chant. But after praying and fasting for seven or eight months, I think I've found a common point here.
Illicit sex.

Can you guess what I mean?

Can you?

Can you guess why the Catholic Church is scrabbling so hard to apologize for all the horrendous abuse that has gone unchecked among their most valued clergymen for generations?

When you wake up from Mardi Gras, perhaps stuck to the floor with your own vomit, you may not be able to remember just who you were with last night. Isn't this something like those sweet little 8-year-old altar boys who try to push out of their minds a memory so horrific that they know no one will believe them?

I've got nothing against sex, folks, but it's too bad it's so often associated with drunken revelry, things you'd rather forget, and little boys and little girls trying not to scream because this kind of love is "special". So special that they dare not mention it to anyone at all.

There is a certain culling. The ones who can't make it. We don't know what's the matter with those people, why they can't get it together! Some of them even leave the church because entering the sanctuary makes them feel unaccountably sick. These are the ones that kind of sift down, doing horrible things like sticking needles in their arm, and eventually die.


I used to eat the bloody pancakes, pray out the bitter, penitent six weeks (never quite sure what I had done that was so wrong), and make sure I suffered terribly on Good Friday, until I realized one day that I had goddamn well suffered enough.
And that I wasn't going to be fallout. Not for anyone.