“dimanche gras” —
What on earth is this?
Historically, the Lenten period of the Church calendar, being the six weeks directly before Easter, was marked by fasting and other pious or penitential practices. Traditionally during Lent, no parties or other celebrations were held, and people refrained from eating rich foods, such as meat, dairy, fats and sugar. The forty days of Lent, recalling the Gospel accounts of the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, serve to mark an annual time of turning. In the days before Lent, all rich food and drink had to be disposed of. The consumption of this, in a giant party that involved the whole community, is thought to be the origin of Carnival.
While it forms an integral part of the Christian calendar, particularly in Catholic regions, some carnival traditions may date back to pre-Christian times. The ancient Roman festivals of Saturnalia and Bacchanalia may possibly have been absorbed into the Italian Carnival. The Saturnalia, in turn, may be based on the Greek Dionysia and Oriental festivals. While medieval pageants and festivals such as Corpus Christi were church-sanctioned celebrations, carnival was also a manifestation of medieval folk culture. Many local carnival customs are based on local pre-Christian rituals, for example the elaborate rites involving masked figures in the Swabian-Alemannic carnival. These are all ancient ancestors of a common idea that if you’re going to suffer for awhile, you should have some treats first to “tide you over.” In New Orleans, for instance, there are several weeks of parties and parades working up to Mardi Gras — “Fat Tuesday.” Dimanche Gras is the Sunday before Mardi Gras.
Here at St. John’s, we like any excuse for a special occasion, and since we have members with strong ties to New Orleans and Jamaica, we’ve decided to do as many nations do and celebrate the Sunday through Tuesday before Lent with a special time of enjoying one another, eating, drinking and singing. So the Sunday before Lent will be a special worship service with very special music and lots of food and celebration during the coffee hour.