Celebrate

Celebrating Mardi Gras in Canada
Mardi Gras is celebrated all over the world.

Mardi Gras is a time of celebration just before lent.

February 28 is Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day, Carnival and/or Mardi Gras, depending on your culture and traditions. Mardi Gras is the last day for parties before the time of Lent. Lent is when many Christians fast before the Easter holiday. You don’t have to celebrate Easter to enjoy Mardi Gras, but knowing why it’s celebrated can help you understand the traditions.

What Is Mardi Gras?

Mardi Gras is the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, which is based on the date of Easter. This means that the date generally changes from year to year. In 2017, it’s February 28. Next year, the date is February 13. In Canada, it’s not a statutory holiday, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t find celebrations here in the country.

During Lent, Christians give up many indulgences, such as meat, alcohol and rich foods. Shrove Tuesday began as a way of using up the food in the household that might be forbidden during Lent. Some believe that Pancake Tuesday was a pagan holiday. Christians are reported to have made pancakes because the recipe would use up eggs, lard or butter, sugar and milk, foods that might be limited through Lent.

Although Lent probably originated in Europe, people around the world now celebrate Mardi Gras, Carnival or Shrove Tuesday with huge festivals. Masquerades and costumes are popular, but so are large amounts of alcohol, many rich foods, not only pancakes and pastries.

At one time, Mardi Gras was a more sedate celebration. Today, it is often considered the single person’s holiday in late Winter, as opposed to Valentine’s Day, which is more couple-centric. 

Where to Celebrate Mardi Gras

Since 1445, Olney in Buckinghamshire has held a pancake race in which women (although men can participate) carry a frypan and toss a pancake in it while racing 415 yards (one-quarter of a kilometer). The pancake must be in the pan when crossing the finish line, and the contestants must be tossing it as they cross the finish. Typically, these women also dress as housewives, wearing an apron and a scarf. Following the race, everyone goes to the church for a service.

Rio, New Orleans, Trinidad and Tobago and Sydney, Australia are great places to go to enjoy huge parties and crowds for Mardi Gras. Not only is this a time to eat indulgently, it’s also a time to be free of inhibitions. It’s an “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” attitude. In New Orleans, it’s traditional to accumulate beads. Tourists think the best way to get beads is to flash someone, but really, locals prefer you just shout, “throw me something, mister!“ at the people on the floats. Parents of children who come out for the parade will thank you for not flashing yourself for their kids to see.

Places in Canada to Celebrate Mardi Gras

Locally, the most popular place for Mardi Gras celebrations is in Quebec City, but this year’s Carnaval de Quebec was from January 27 through February 12, making it much earlier than Mardi Gras. Ottawa’s Winterlude also misses it this year, as it is from February 3 through 20. You may just have to look for ones in your neighborhood or create your own traditions.

Making Atonement During Yom Kippur
Yom Kippur Letterpress

Yom Kappur is considered a day of atonement.

The Jewish community celebrates the New Year in the fall. They call the holiday Rosh Hashanah. It begins a period of 10 days known as the High Holy Days and commences with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Yom Kippur is probably the most sacred holiday to the Jews. Even secular Jews attend synagogue. It might be the only day some Jews go to temple, much like Christians attending church service on Easter or Christmas Eve. You may not be Jewish, or even believe that there is a supreme being; however, you can learn from this holiday and approach the upcoming traditional holiday season with a clean slate.

Traditions of Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur is the day when Jews make apologies to God for their sins. In order to approach God, it’s traditional to fast and pray for 24 hours. In addition to fasting, Jews do not have marital relations, do not wear leather shoes, do not wash and do not bathe during Yom Kippur. Orthodox Jews may immerse in a mikveh before Yom Kippur as a symbol of purity. Many Jews will wear white, as another way of presenting themselves as pure.

Prayers of repentance are said during services at the synagogue. Public and private atonement is made before God, depending on the desire of the individual. The process of asking for forgiveness is called Teshuva. It involves:

  • Regret of having committed the sin
  • A resolve not to commit the sin in the future
  • Confession before God

Also, Jews will give charity to those less fortunate on Yom Kippur. This year, Yom Kippur falls on October 12, but it actually begins at sunset on the day before and ends at nightfall on the actual day. Following Yom Kippur, families might have a feast in celebration of completing the fast.

What We Can Learn

In 1982, the band Chicago came out with a song, “Hard to Say I’m Sorry.” The song might be referencing two lovers who had a disagreement, but most of us, if we were really honest, don’t like to admit when we’re wrong or we’ve done something to injure another person’s feelings. Maybe you don’t believe in God, but it’s probable that you may have hurt someone in the past. We all make mistakes and say things that we probably should have thought about before opening our mouth or typing them at the keyboard. Learning how the Jews apologize to God, we can actually learn how to apologize to others.

Have you ever said to someone, “I’m sorry you feel that way” or “I’m sorry if I hurt you”? Take a second to look at those phrases. Although it may seem like a case of semantics, you might make them feel as if you’re dismissing their feelings when you say those words. Are you sorry for your actions or for how they reacted to your mistake?

A better way to apologize is to say, “I’m sorry I did . . . I cannot excuse my behavior, and I won’t let it happen again. Please forgive me.” There may be extenuating circumstances. Maybe the other person made you mad, but you cannot control anyone’s behavior but your own. Think about your own attitude when you say you’re sorry. And remember that all you can do is make the apology. The other person does not have to accept your apology. It could happen that day, but it might not happen for years. Don’t make the situation worse by forcing someone to forgive you.

Christmas and the New Year are coming up. Think about making amends with family members or neighbors this year to have a clean conscious. Fix those relationships that are broken and truly celebrate the good will of the upcoming season.

Celebrate Recovery on September 30
It feels great to celebrate recovery when you finally reach the finish line.

In order to celebrate recovery, we need to understand that it is not an easy road.

One of the most debilitating diseases in the world is addiction. It’s estimated that about 4.5 million Canadians suffer from drug addiction, and this figure doesn’t include family members affected by addiction. Fortunately, there is treatment available, but addiction is not curable. Those who have conquered their addiction are considered recovered, not cured. It’s important to realize that many people go on to live productive and healthy lives once they stop using the addictive substance. Since 2012, there’s been a push to celebrate recovery from addictions.

In the United States, September is designated Recovery Month, but here in Canada, we just have Recovery Day. Last year, about 30 cities held special events, and this year, even more will. Recovery Day began with a nine-minute video by filmmaker Greg Williams that had the goal of breaking down the stigma of addiction and focusing on solutions to addiction. The movement began in Vancouver but has trickled across the country to help others.

Myths About Addiction and Treatment

Many times, addicts are seen as bad people making bad decisions, but drug and alcohol addiction is much more complex than we realize. There’s no “one size fits all” to cure addiction. Often, addictions come hand-in-hand with other mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression, and all of the health problems within a person have to be dealt with to find long-term recovery. Here are a few other myths associated with treatment and addiction:

  1. Addiction is a character flaw.

Addiction is actually a brain disease.

  1. People can just stop using drugs if they want to.

Drug and alcohol addiction actually changes the brain, which leads to a compulsion to use the substance. Teens become addicted much more quickly than adults because their brains are not fully developed.

  1. You can’t force a person into treatment for it to be successful.

Many people go into treatment to keep a job or because the legal system ordered them into it.

  1. Treatment should be a one-shot deal.

Studies show that treatment reduces many of the risky behaviors associated with addiction and it reduces the substance use, but many addicts need continuous treatment to overcome drug and alcohol use. There are some who can quit cold turkey and never go back to using the substance again, but many others need a wide array of services to keep them on the road to recovery. Treatment needs to be individually tailored to address each person’s specific needs.

  1. After treatment, if a person continues to abuse drugs or alcohol, it’s a hopeless situation.

Relapse into substance abuse is not failure. Addiction is a chronic disorder that makes a person more vulnerable when dealing with work and family problems. Stress can trigger a relapse, especially in the first few months following a release from a treatment program. Don’t give up on an addict, because recovery is a long process that isn’t easy.

A Day to Celebrate Recovery Gives Hope

When people come together to share their recovery stories, it’s proof that treatment does work. Recovery is possible. The awareness Recovery Day brings challenges the societal stigma of addiction, and it builds community to give hope to others who are dealing with this difficult problem.

Recoverydaycanada.com has information about events in different cities. Vancouver is hosting a street festival. Montreal hosted an event at Girouard Park on September 17.

If you miss out on the event in your community, make plans to celebrate with your friends who are in recovery to honor their commitment to their health. Find inspiration and support in what they’re doing to maintain sobriety. Give hope to others who may have friends and family dealing with addiction. Let’s focus on solutions and finding help instead of shaming addicts.

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Spring Celebrations Around the World
Spring Time Celebrations

Spring Time Celebrations

If you’re ready for asparagus, morels and fresh spring lettuce, you’re not alone. It has a been a long winter. Shubenacadie Sam and Wiarton Willie, famous weather forecasters from Groundhog Day, were no help in deciding whether winter would continue or not in the north, splitting the vote. Punxsutawney Phil sides with Sam in predicting an early spring. March 21 marks the spring equinox, and it’s hoped that the flowers will be in bloom soon after. Even if they aren’t, find a celebration of spring and enjoy this time of renewal.

Thailand Water Festival

In Thailand, in mid-April, come for the Songkran Water festival. It’s a huge public water fight held in honor of the new year. The water represents the cleansing of negative influences. It might be summer in the southern hemisphere, but you can still think of it being spring. Come for the festival and hope that the flowers will be in full bloom when you return.

Japan Shunbun no Hi

The spring equinox is a national holiday in Japan. They actually celebrate three days before and three days after, but the actual day when the equinox occurs is a day to honor nature and show affection for living things. Part of the Japanese tradition of Shunbun no Hi is to visit their ancestral graves and clean them up. People leave flowers and incense on the graves, then go visit with other family members as part of their spring festivity. They also clean their home and start new activities to renew their life. Farmers pray for luck for the upcoming growing season.

Granny March

In Bulgaria, Granny March or Baba Marta marks the arrival of spring. Legend says that the final snow of winter is just when Baba Marta is in the midst of spring cleaning and is shaking out her feather bed. Beginning on March 1, people give martenitsi, a red and white figure which can almost resemble a tassel, to wear until the first signs of spring appear. Once the trees begin to bloom, the martenitsis are tied to the branches in honor of the season.

The Washington D.C. Cherry Blossom Festival

If you can’t wait until May for Tulip festival in Ottawa, take a trip south to Washington D.C. for the National Cherry Blossom Festival. It begins March 20 and runs through April 17 in the capital of the United States. Much like the tulips are a sign of friendship between Canada and the Netherlands, the cherry blossoms celebrate the ties of the U.S. to Japan. It’s spring and the flowers are in bloom. What better reason could you need for a break from all the snow?

Hindu Holi Celebration

In Southeast Asia, the festival of Holi is also called the Festival of Colors. Legends tell two different tales of why the tradition of throwing powdered pigments at each other got started, but the main idea is that good conquers evil. In one story, Holika attempted to burn her nephew, Prahlad in a bonfire, but he was saved by Lord Vishnu in a strange turn of events. In remembrance, Hindus light bonfires and celebrate Prahlad’s victory. Much of festival is fun, but it also has spiritual significance. It’s a time to renew friendships and forgive those who have hurt you in the past year.

Celebrate Renewal

It doesn’t matter when the first buds of spring occur, it’s just a given that the season will change and the earth will come alive. Enjoy the festivals of spring and remember that you’re given new opportunities to make your life all you want. Take time this year to think about the changes you need to make to make your dreams come true.