Mardi Gras literally means "Fat Tuesday" in French (called Pancake Tuesday in England) and is associated with the Roman Catholic custom of Lent. But is it taught in the Bible? Would God want Christians to celebrate it?
The idea behind Mardi Gras or carnival celebrations is that people overindulge before giving up something for Lent, which begins the following day with Ash Wednesday. (Lent is the 40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday to Easter observed by the Roman Catholic, Eastern and some Protestant churches as a period of penitence and fasting.)
Note the following encyclopedia article excerpt:
"Some scholars have noted similarities between modern Mardi Gras celebrations and Lupercalia, a fertility festival held each February in ancient Rome. However, modern Carnival traditions developed in Europe during the Middle Ages (5th century to the 15th century) as part of the ritual calendar of the Roman Catholic Church.
"Today pre-Lenten Carnivals are celebrated predominantly in Roman Catholic communities in Europe and the Americas. Cities famous for their celebrations include Nice, France; Cologne, Germany; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. New Orleans, Louisiana, holds the most famous Mardi Gras celebration in the United States. Residents of New Orleans have been celebrating Mardi Gras since the 18th century" ("Mardi Gras," Encarta).
Mardi Gras "is a lively, colorful [not to mention bawdy and debased] celebration held on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent begins," says the World Book Encyclopedia. It "goes back to an ancient Roman custom of merrymaking before a period of fast." In places like New Orleans, the period of merrymaking with fancy balls and parades goes on for weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday itself.
It has been suggested by some scholars that the pagan practice of "weeping for Tammuz" that Ezekiel decried (Ezekiel 8:14) was the actual origin of Lent. Tammuz was a pagan god associated with death and rebirth in nature and the husband of the goddess Ishtar (See the Good News Bible Reading Program's commentary on Ezekiel 8 for details.)
The idea of partying before repenting seems to be to get as much revelry and additional sin out of the way before you decide to do anything about it. But that attitude doesn't show a belief that God's way is really right and that sin is really wrong, harmful and something to be avoided because it wars against us (1 Peter 2:11) and is contrary to God's instruction (Romans 13:13-14). It doesn't show the 100 percent commitment that God wants (Romans 12:1-2).
God says we should always live holy lives and obey His laws because they are good for us (Deuteronomy 10:12-13). Satan is the one who wants us to think that doing wrong things is fun, and his deception has been quite successful (Revelation 12:9; 1 John 2:16).
Neither Mardi Gras nor Lent are commanded in the Bible but come from pre-Christian, pagan customs. What does God think about such pagan customs?
"When the Lord your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess…do not inquire after their gods, saying, 'How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.' You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way; for every abomination to the Lord which He hates they have done to their gods... Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it" (Deuteronomy 12:29-32).
The New Testament continues this theme. The apostle Paul addressed the issue of whether outside religious customs and practices had any place among Christians:
"What fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: 'I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.'
"Therefore 'Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.' Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 6:14–18; 7:1).
Instead of renaming some of the pagan customs as Christian or allowing the new converts to retain some of their former practices, Paul commanded them to leave behind all of these forms of worship.
Mardi Gras celebrations have nothing to do with God's commanded Holy Days. On the contrary, they are part of the system from which God's people should separate themselves.
For more information, please read our booklet "Holidays or Holy Days: Does It Matter Which Days We Observe?"