Editor’s note: While you were out catching beads, sipping on daiquiris, and soldiering through the general sogginess that was Mardi Gras 2014… so were we. Let’s all catch our breath by taking a look back at a Editor Renee Peck’s post-Mardi reflection on the significance of Lent in New Orleans, from 2011.
You might call Lent the New Orleans New Year.
Elsewhere, it’s on Jan. 1 when people vow to lose weight or clean the house or quit smoking or whatever else mars their sense of self-perfection. Around here, we’re just getting started on self-gratification.
I mean, with king cake season starting annually on Jan. 6, who can resolve to give up sweets? Even though I no longer work in an office, where mean-spirited thin people inevitably offer daily enticements of high-calorie dough, I can’t escape them. And whoever thought up that baby thing, so that every king cake ensures another one, usually the very next day?
No, Carnival is the season of vice, and we’re good at it. This year, it lasted about twice as long as usual, too. Making Lent, that 40 days of self-sacrifice, all the more challenging.
Last week, a friend queried on Facebook whether anyone was giving up Facebook for Lent (it seems this is something of a trend). Isn’t there a conundrum there? And why does Girl Scout cookie season fall right at the end of Fat Tuesday, just as we’re gearing up for leaner cuisine?
In New Orleans, Lent is not just a religious observance, but a state of mind. I get the need for a period of self-denial, and contemplation. We all need time for reflection.
The problem in New Orleans is that every month – week – is a season of something. We plunge from one celebration to the next, with no time for resolutions between.
St. Patrick’s Day – green beer time – started Saturday. St. Joseph’s Day, with its gustatory altars, looms next. Then comes French Quarter Fest, with the world’s largest jazz brunch, and The Tennessee Williams Fest and Spring Fiesta, all merrily leading up to the spring juggernaut of Jazzfest, purveyor of truckloads of crawfish bread, gallons of white chocolate bread pudding.
In a bygone era, summer provided New Orleanians with a season of calm. In yellow fever days, those who could get away did, and everyone else hibernated. Now, Tales of the Cocktail and Essence Festival keep things rolling right through the dog days.
And of course, in New Orleans, even hurricane season brings more excuse for a party.
Don’t get me wrong: I love our joie de vie. I fall into a second line at the first bright note of a brass band.
But it is Lent. A time for reflection, even resolution. So I am contemplating what to give up.
Right now, my spring cleaning involves bagging up the best beads for the closet, and giving the rest away. My diet plans entail an immediate ban on go-cups. And I was definitely planning to make exercise class this morning, but hey, after catching Rex beads and cabbages in a single week, who can get up by 9 a.m.?
What I’d really like to do is assign a few Lenten sacrifices for others. How about the city giving up traffic cameras for the next 40 days? Or New Orleans drivers could give up texting at the wheel, just during Lent (we gave up using turn signals years ago).
I’d love for any of my daughters to give up Jersey Shore, just on principal. And maybe Stewart would give up that channel-surfing thing he constantly does with the remote.
Most people I know give up things like candy or caffeine for Lent. As with New Year’s resolutions, such denial doesn’t last long enough to make a real dent in life. I think the idea is that, if you forego that daily latte, it will somehow make you a better person. Or make you think about being a better person. But it probably only makes you dream of lattes.
For me, the idea of Lent is less about sacrifice and more about reflection. All of us need to occasionally get off the merry-go-round, to stand and watch the horses go by, and think about what it all means.
New Orleanians, I think, get this – the need for that flip side of revelry. Ours is actually a very spiritual city. Sure, we party with the best of them, but come Ash Wednesday many of us head to church, visibly marking our celebratory recess with ashes to our foreheads.
So for Lent, rather than eschewing lattes or beignets, I’ve decided to give up cynicism. No more railing against a plethora of potholes or shallow politicians. No more negative thoughts about playoff chances or meter maids.
I’m spending the next 40 days savoring the fact that, without the more austere times, we wouldn’t really appreciate what we’ve got going here. We all learned that after Katrina, but a brush-up lesson now and then never hurts.
Renee Peck writes weekly for NolaVie.