You can go to mass, or you can go to the drive-thru.
One day you’re yelling for the biggest beads you can possibly fit around your neck, the next you’re at church, praying for forgiveness and a quick remedy to the pounding headache you’ve got.
So it goes here in New Orleans, every year. Every single Carnival season, we try to outdo the last.
“Mardi Gras is a marathon, not a sprint,” they said. “Go to parades in the rain!” they said. “It’ll all be fun!” they said.
Even on Wednesday, life isn’t back to normal. You’ll go to work, sluggish, wondering why any group of people would decide to have a holiday on a TUESDAY, and why the rest of the nation doesn’t understand. Every time you look up, someone in the room will have that cross on their head. The cross that reminds you that one day, you’ll die, and to dust, you shall return. Just 12 hours ago, you were so alive!
Ash Wednesday immediately follows Fat Tuesday, and is the beginning of the Lent season. Christians take time to reflect on sacrifice during Lent, and most fast on Fridays or abstain from meat. It’s also a day of repentance from sin. In essence, it is the exact opposite of Mardi Gras.
You’ve got options. Maybe you’re short on time, so you’ve got to do drive-thru ashes. Maybe you can spare a half-hour and attend Mass at a church close to you. Either way, you’ll definitely be the odd man out if you don’t get them.
You’ll get on your teleconference with your coworkers in New York, who won’t be tired at all, and who also won’t have a black smudge on his or her forehead. They’ll be confused, and that’s fine. It’s like a badge, the visible signs of being a New Orleanian, and we wear it with pride.