Inside Out

Even if you do not live in an area that celebrates Mardi Gras, most of us have at least heard of it. For some, it is a “bucket list” item to visit New Orleans during Mardi Gras where it is an entire season beginning in January and running through “Fat Tuesday.” Yesterday, the revelry of Mardi Gras faded into the reverence of Lent marked by Ash Wednesday. The gluttony of Fat Tuesday gave way to the fasting of the Lenten season. The seduction of Carnival conceded to the sacrifice of Lent.

Just as the Mardi Gras season is brimming with rituals and symbolism, the Lenten season is as well. On Ash Wednesday, heads that just the day before donned elaborate masks and flamboyant headdresses now bear ashen crosses. Millions of people observe the rituals of their faith by “giving up” something (meat, sugar, chocolate, beer, wine, smoking, etc.). 

In so many ways, the things that we choose to give up during Lent – though well-intentioned – miss the mark.

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Why are we hiding?

Most of you reading this will likely think of Halloween at the mention of masks, but where I’m from . . . “throw me something, Mistah.” (Or “Sistah,”) rules the day. For those unfamiliar with Mardi Gras, it is truly the greatest party on earth. From January 6th until Fat Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday) each year, the streets of New Orleans and the surrounding communities host parades and street parties. Families gather in the same spot along a parade route where they’ve gathered for years. Much fried chicken, po-boys, king cake, and beer is consumed.

The parades aren’t your typical ones where beauty queens wave from an open convertible. Yes, there will be a “royal court” on display, but there’s so much more. The bands are better. The floats come in elaborate (and often satirical) themes.

The riders are in costume. Masks are an essential part of their costumes often looking much like those cheap, plastic masks that are sold with children’s Halloween costumes. The masks add to the mystery of the parade so much so that most local ordinances require riders to be masked while on the floats. Parade-goers often join in the fun with their own extravagant costumes and masks.

Traditionally, masks were worn by during Mardi Gras to allow revelers to escape social judgment. No matter your social status – all are equal behind the mask. Our modern-day “masks” serve the same purpose. Not the masks worn by revelers; rather the ones that we don each morning. Those thin veneers that we never leave home without. Those facades that help us face the world. The smiles that say, “stay away.” Even when pain presses against our broken hearts, we create picture-perfect lives on social media. Snippets on Snapchat. Isolated updates on Instagram. Pithy posts on FaceBook. The perfect life tweeted in 142 characters or less. The lives we think we should have. The lives that we think will convince others of “nothing to see here.” Read more