celebration

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.

Holding a Holiday Wedding – Pros and Cons
Holiday Wedding Ceremony

Some people think that a Holiday Wedding will be easier due to family being in town, however it can cause more harm than good.

All of your family will be home for Christmas, which might make you think holding a Holiday wedding on that weekend would be good. But will it? Christmas and Thanksgiving aren’t the only holidays that are wedding favorites; Valentine’s Day or Easter weekend are other special events where people consider marrying. Before planning your celebration of vows on a three-day weekend, consider the advantages and disadvantages.

The Benefits of a Holiday Weekend

  • If you’re having a destination weekend, more of your family and friends might have time off to travel.
  • Even if you’re staying at home, you probably get more vacation time around certain holidays. This lets you steal a few extra days to get ready for the ceremony or to go on the honeymoon.
  • You can work more themes into your wedding if you’re holding it over a holiday weekend.
  • It’s just one more holiday party for guests to have when they’re taking time off work.
  • Celebrating future anniversaries is easier, because you can always remember the date. And if it’s around a holiday, you’ll know you’ll be able to get an extra day off.

The Disadvantages of Holding Your Wedding on a Holiday

  • Guests may have other standing plans with family or other holiday obligations.
  • You can’t assume people have vacation days around the holidays. People who work retail may be required to work extra shifts during the Christmas season. Healthcare workers may not be able to apply for time off.
  • December is already expensive for many people. Adding the extra expense of a wedding may be prohibitive. While you’re not having the wedding to get gifts, you certainly don’t want to make it harder for those who want to give you a present.
  • Airfare can be higher during holidays because the demand is higher.

Etiquette for a Holiday Wedding

If you’ve had your heart set on a wedding held on New Year’s Day or Valentine’s Day, then go for it. Be understanding when guests decline the invitation. After all, it’s a request for their presence, not a command. Here are some tips to help your guests make decisions about whether they can attend your wedding over a holiday weekend.

  1. Give your guests a lot of notice. Send save-the-date cards a little earlier. Remember, if you send someone a save-the-date card, you should send them an invitation. Make your guest list first. Don’t send out save-the-date cards indiscriminately. One wedding website recommends at least a year in advance with a holiday wedding.
  2. Give more RSVP time. You should also plan time to follow up with RSVPs.
  3. Use the holiday as a starting point. Don’t play Christmas music at your Christmas wedding. You want people to remember your day, not the holiday.
  4. Incorporate touches of decorations from the holiday, but don’t overdo. You can make the party theme-driven and unique.
  5. Have a signature cocktail and appetizers to get the reception started.
  6. Remember to book vendors early. You may need to remember to budget a little more than you would if it were on another weekend. Vendors may have to charge more for a holiday event.
  7. Plan to give servers who are working on Christmas a larger tip. They’re not with their family because they’re serving yours. Be kind and considerate to those who are working.
  8. Make hotel reservations early too. Get a room block to get a reduced rate and save rooms for those who need it.
  9. Advertise on your wedding website which amenities you are providing. Make it easy for guests to find accommodations and local information.

Before setting the date for your wedding, discuss any plans thoroughly. This way you understand the pitfalls and can overcome the disadvantages before you spend a lot of money.

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.

Does Mardi Gras Invalidate Lent?

ULC, mask, celebration, lent, shroveAlthough the Universal Life Church is not a Christian or a Catholic organization, we share many of the same basic beliefs that constitute the foundations of these religions. For instance, our interfaith ministers agree with the Christian message that actions as well as thoughts play a significant part in mortality. Those who knowingly commit acts that they believe are wrong sometimes depend on their religion to offer them ablution simply because they’ve asked for forgiveness after the fact. A great example of this is those who celebrate Mardi Gras in ways that are against the teachings of their religion before repenting during Lent to make up for their transgressions. This can be compared to intentionally living a life outside the boundaries of personal belief systems and asking for redemption on the deathbed.

The term Mardi Gras is actually French for Fat Tuesday, which is the last night before Lent when believers can enjoy dining on foods rich in calories, fat and taste. Over the years, revelers have incorporated other behavior into Mardi Gras festivities. Most people who celebrate Mardi Gras consider it to be great fun and often go all-out in their activities, similar to how some people spend Saturday nights engaging in behavior that is considered a sin by their church before appearing at services on Sunday morning.

The interfaith ministers who have become ordained through the Universal Life Church do not necessarily believe that the behavior of Mardi Gras revelers constitutes sin. However, we do feel as if spiritual beliefs should be given more than just lip service. Its a complex issue because even though most people probably consider such behavior to be gaming the system, common interpretations of certain parables in Christianity validate the idea that those who reach spiritual enlightenment late in life are entitled to the same rewards as those who have been pious from an early age. The Biblical Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard portrays a situation in which workers were paid the same whether they had worked for one hour in the vineyard or for an entire day. This parable stresses the belief that God loves all people equally and that does not grant favoritism based on the length of time that a person has been a believer.

Conflicts such as these are excellent opportunities for discussion about spiritual matters. Is it really morally right to use the act of asking for forgiveness after engaging in behavior that is against one’s moral code as a sort of spiritual “get out of jail free” card, and is it possible for a person to abuse the notion of forgiveness so many times that they run out of free passes?

Those who become ordained in the Universal Life Church don’t follow a set of beliefs decided on by others. We believe that every individual, including our interfaith ministers, has to find and follow his or her own spiritual path. Part of the process of developing an individual moral code is exploring questions such as this one thoughtfully and in-depth.