As another Mardi Gras arrives, we know many people outside of Louisiana — and quite a few inside the state — will regard today’s holiday as a running indulgence of the Seven Deadly Sins, which include, among their number, sloth, lust and gluttony.
But we’d like to mention, in the interest of balance, the Seven Lively Virtues of Carnival.
Here are seven ways that Mardi Gras improves the soul:
1) Carnival teaches humility. Through the long-running tradition of masked parade riders, the identities of those throwing beads and other trinkets are usually concealed from the recipients of these much-valued favors. The underlying message — it’s not important for one to get personal credit for an act of generosity — is an important one in this age of indulgent self-congratulation.
2) Mardi Gras reminds us to live in the moment. The central attraction of Carnival, the splendid parade that moves past us all too quickly, is a nice reminder that most of life’s gifts are fleeting ones. Mardi Gras conditions us to savor the here and now. This Twitter-pated world, so often fevered by worry, hurry and the hunt for the next best thing, needs Carnival’s call to mindfulness more than ever.
3) Carnival is inclusive. We pay a lot of earnest lip service these days to the value of inclusion, but Mardi Gras takes that pious political abstraction and applies it at street level. Carnival extends its invitation to everyone — the young and old, rich and poor, people of every color and creed. Everyone has a chance to see the parade and enjoy its bounty. This is America at its best.
4) Mardi Gras is nonpartisan. Carnival, thank goodness, does not require a particular party affiliation for participants. This is at least one day for our politically divided culture to raise its collective hands in celebration of the silly spectacle of the holiday.
5) Carnival cultivates a healthy skepticism about power. The mock royalty of Mardi Gras — the business executives and debutantes dressed as kings and queens — exemplifies our natural inclination not to take hierarchy too seriously. We allow royalty once a year at Mardi Gras, but the kingdom of Carnival fades at midnight. This is monarchy American-style — a winking nod toward status in an otherwise populist holiday. In short, democracy at its fullest.
6) Mardi Gras celebrates the local. We’ve heard a lot in recent years about the value of honoring local culture on a planet increasingly driven by globalism. Mardi Gras, so rooted in the traditions of south Louisiana, expresses the uniqueness of our region. Carnival can’t be franchised to Topeka, Kan., or Tennessee. Mardi Gras championed localism before localism was cool.
7) Carnival affirms our faith in the future. The reckless abundance of the Mardi Gras — the long lines of floats, the tons of parade throws, the Carnival feasts — expresses our desire to freely spread what is good, fully confident that this shared abundance will be renewed, year after year, from Mardi Gras to Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras, in other words, is one of the most spiritually beneficial holidays we have. But try to forget that today. Focusing on Carnival as an exercise in virtue might take the fun out of it.