Early in the year according to the commonly accepted civil calendar (the Gregorian calendar), a strange custom called “Mardi Gras” or “Carnival” is observed widely in allegedly “Christian” nations. What is the origin of this weird festival, and is it truly Christian in nature?
The nature of Mardi Gras is epitomized by the namesake for the oldest Carnival organization in New Orleans, the “Mistick Krewe of Comus.” “In Greek mythology, Comus [or Komos] is the god of festivity, revels and nocturnal dalliances…. Comus represents anarchy and chaos…. During his festivals in Ancient Greece, men and women exchanged clothes. He was depicted as a young man on the point of unconsciousness from drink. He had a wreath of flowers on his head and carried a torch that was in the process of being dropped…. Comus was a god of excess.” (“Comus,” www.wikipedia.org, retrieved 11-13-2018). He is a sorcerer, “born from the loves of Bacchus and Circe” (“Comus,” vol. 6, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911).
“The Komos… was a ritualistic drunken procession performed by revelers in ancient Greece, whose participants were known as komasts” (“Komos,” www.wikipedia.org, retrieved 11-13-2018). In imitation of the ancient pagan revelers’ masked processions, the celebration of Mardi Gras commonly includes masked parades, drunkenness, public nudity, cross dressing, and other manifestations of wild partying and revelry unrestrained by godly standards of decency and morality.
The names of other “Krewes” associated with Mardi Gras are also revealing: “Knights of Hermes,” “Knights of Babylon,” “Krewe of Saturn,” “Krewe of Bacchus,” “Knights of Chaos.” All of these names are linked to idolatrous worship and lawlessness.
The history of Mardi Gras is also traced to another ancient pagan festival observed by the Romans in mid-February. “The carnival is nothing but the Lupercalia of the Christian Romans, who could not forget their pagan festivals” (Encyclopedia Americana, 1949, vol. 5, “Carnival,” p. 641). “’Christians,’ it is said, ‘on these days deliver themselves up to voluntary madness, put on masks, exchange sexes, clothe themselves up like spectres, give themselves up to Bacchus and Venus and consider all pleasure allowable’” (ibid.).
The celebration features mock kings dubbed “The Lord of Misrule,” and the “bean king,” commonly chosen by chance by finding a bean in a cake divided among celebrants, or sometimes by lot or throwing dice. The origin of this custom is traced to “the King of Saturnalia, the ancient Lord of Misrule, who presided over the Roman festival held in honor of Saturn…” (“King Cake History: A Rich Tradition,” mardigrastraditions.com, retrieved 11-13-2018). “… the King of Saturnalia was chosen by throwing dice, drawing a lot, or discovering a fava bean or coin in a piece of cake” (ibid.).
Eventually the professing Christian Church adopted these pagan customs into its ritual. “… Carnival came to be more or less accepted by Church fathers as a necessary period of foolishness and folly before the fasting and abstinence of Lent. (Because the day before Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, was one of feasting, it came to be known as Fat Tuesday or, as the French would say, Mardi Gras)” (ibid.).
But these practices, honoring idolatrous customs, public nudity, cross dressing, drunkenness and licentious revelry, far from being “necessary,” are all specifically condemned in Scripture and are the exact opposite of real Christianity. Paul wrote that those who practice such things will not inherit God’s Kingdom: “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:19-23). Note that the word translated “revelries” in the New King James Version is the Greek word komos.
Given the nature of activities commonly indulged in as a part of Mardi Gras celebrations, it should not be surprising they not infrequently lead to violence and crimes such as assaults and sometimes even murder. In New Orleans, for example, an article dated January 25, 2015 stated: “At least eight out of the past 11 Carnival festivities have seen shootings take place at parade routes, in clubs or on Bourbon Street. At least 27 people were injured in those shootings and one killed” (“New Orleans concerned about Mardi Gras crime,” wbrz.com, retrieved 11-21-2018). In 2018 it was reported, “Three shootings in New Orleans left three people dead, and five others injured as people were celebrating Mardi Gras on Tuesday, February 13th” (“Violence Mars Mardi Gras Celebration In New Orleans,” iheart.com, February 14, 2018, retrieved 11-18-2018). Especially notable is the “Mardi Gras riot” that occurred during Mardi Gras celebrations in Seattle in 2001. Many women were reportedly sexually assaulted, some having their clothes ripped off by drunken crowds. Some women were beaten, and a man was beaten to death while trying to assist a woman being brutalized (“Many Sexual assaults at Mardi Gras,” Seattle Post-Ingelligencer, March 10, 2001, retrieved from archive.org 11-19-2018; “Seattle Mardi Gras riot,” wikipedia.org, retrieved 11-19-2018).
The Bible foretold how an ancient system of religious deception would gain prominence following the New Testament era. It is called ”MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH” (Revelation 17:5). “Babylon” comes from a Hebrew word meaning “confusion.”
The popular system prophesied by Christ’s revelation was to sow religious confusion and apostasy by blending the teachings of the Bible with paganism. Mardi Gras is rank heathenism and lawless abandon practiced in the name of Christianity. God sent ancient Israel and Judah into captivity for sins that included worship of idols and blending his worship with idolatrous customs (Deuteronomy 12:29-32; 2 Kings 17:15, 36-40).
In today’s world, as in past ages, you may be thought of as “strange” if you do not participate in popular customs linked to heathenism and idolatry, but regardless, Christians are called upon to separate themselves from such practices. “For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles–when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries [Greek: komos], drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you. They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:3-5). “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues” (Revelation 18:4).
God has given us a path to joy and happiness that does not involve transgressing his laws and bringing pain and suffering upon ourselves or others. God’s prescription for happiness and rejoicing without regret includes festivals he commanded to be kept annually. And in reference to them he proclaimed: “There you shall eat before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice in all to which you have put your hand, you and your households, in which the Lord your God has blessed you” (Deuteronomy 12:7).
The true way to happiness and fulfillment is not in orgiastic decadence, but in faith toward and obedience to God and his righteous laws. If you believe yourself to be a Christian, how can you reconcile participating in Mardi Gras and like customs with what you profess?
Copyright © 2019 by Rod Reynolds
otherwise noted Scripture taken from the New King James VersionTM
Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.
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