Mardi Gras: The Devil's Carnival?

By COGwriter

What is Mardi Gras? Is it a Christian holiday? Where did many of the practices associated with it come from? Does the Bible endorse it? What about Shrove Tuesday?

This article will briefly deal with those questions. (There is also a related YouTube video Mardi Gras & Carnaval: Are they for Christians?)

Mardi Gras = Fat Tuesday

Mardi gras is translated to as “fat Tuesday” in the English language.

Mardi Gras parade

The day before “Ash Wednesday” is sometimes called or Mardi Gras and marks the end of the season known as “carnival” or “carnaval” (which is several days to many weeks long depending upon the culture).  Essentially it is a time of having parties, eating a lot of meat, and indulging in practices that Catholics believe that they should give up on Ash Wednesday for the duration of Lent.

Mardi Gras is also called Carnaval

Mardi Gras is also known as Carnaval in some places.

Notice the following:

Although the origins of Carnaval are shrouded in mystery, some believe the fest began as a pagan celebration of spring’s arrival sometime during the Middle Ages. The Portuguese brought the celebration to Brazil in the 1500s, but it took on a decidedly local flavor by adopting Indian costumes and African rhythms. The word itself probably derives from the Latin “carne vale,” or “goodbye meat,” a reference to the Catholic tradition of giving up meat (and other fleshly temptations) during Lent…(

The origens of this are not a complete mystery as the sixth edition of the Columbia Encyclopedia states:

Carnival communal celebration, especially the religious celebration in Catholic countries that takes place just before Lent.

Since early times carnivals have been accompanied by parades, masquerades, pageants, and other forms of revelry that had their origins in pre-Christian pagan rites, particularly fertility rites that were connected with the coming of spring and the rebirth of vegetation.

One of the first recorded instances of an annual spring festival is the festival of Osiris in Egypt; it commemorated the renewal of life brought about by the yearly flooding of the Nile. In Athens, during the 6th cent. BC, a yearly celebration in honor of the god Dionysus was the first recorded instance of the use of a float.

It was during the Roman Empire that carnivals reached an unparalleled peak of civil disorder and licentiousness. The major Roman carnivals were the Bacchanalia, the Saturnalia, and the Lupercalia. In Europe the tradition of spring fertility celebrations persisted well into Christian times, where carnivals reached their peak during the 14th and 15th cent.

Because carnivals are deeply rooted in pagan superstitions and the folklore of Europe, the Roman Catholic Church was unable to stamp them out and finally accepted many of them as part of church activity (

The Baccanalia was to the god Bacchus, also called Dionysus. He was the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness, fertility, theatre and religious ecstasy in Greek mythology. Sexual lewdness was part of the Baccanalia celebration. Alcohol, especially wine, played an important role in Greek culture with Dionysus being an important reason for this life style (Wikipedia). Mardis Gras and Carnaval seem to be related to this.

Wikipedia states:

Carnival is a festival traditionally held in Roman Catholic and, to a lesser extent, Eastern Orthodox societies. Protestant areas usually do not have carnival celebrations or have modified traditions, such as the Danish Carnival. The Brazilian Carnaval is the longest celebration today, but many cities and regions worldwide celebrate with large, popular events. These include the Carnevale of Venice, Italy, of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands; of Torres Vedras, Portugal; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Rijeka, Croatia; Barranquilla, Colombia; and Trinidad and Tobago. In the United States, the famous Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Mobile, Alabama, date back to French and Spanish colonial times…

An inspiration for the carnival traditionally was that it marked the last time for celebration and special foods before Lent. The Lenten period was marked by practices of fasting, restricted food, and pious practices. Traditionally, no parties were held and people refrained from eating rich foods, such as meat, and in some cases, dairy, fats and sugar. The forty days of Lent serve to mark an annual time of turning to God and religious discipline.

While it is an integral part of the Christian calendar, parts of the carnival traditions likely reach back to pre-Christian times. The ancient Roman festivals of the Saturnalia and Bacchanalia may have been absorbed in 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.

Yes, many Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and others will participate in the revelries associated with carnival.  And many will also observe Lent.

Here is some of what the American Catholic reports about it:

Mardi Gras, literally “Fat Tuesday,” has grown in popularity in recent years as a raucous, sometimes hedonistic event…Carnival comes from the Latin words carne vale, meaning “farewell to the flesh.” Like many Catholic holidays and seasonal celebrations, it likely has its roots in pre-Christian traditions based on the seasons. (Catholic Roots of Mardi Gras.  American Catholic.

Essentially, this is a pagan holiday that the Catholics adopted as a compromise to keep members. Participants eat a lot (hence the name “fat Tuesday”) before they begin a fast now called Lent–another observance with pagan origins.  Parades involving under-clothed women are common.

Of course, Mardi Gras festivities are not biblical, despite their popularity.

Lent, which also is not of biblical origin, is becoming an excuse essentially for loud and wild parties all over the world, which stop the night before it. 

Was Carnaval Endorsed by Early Catholic Writers?

In the late second century, Roman Catholic Bishop and Eastern Orthodox saint Irenaeus condemned the followers of the heretic Valentinus for participating in meat eating heathen festivals:

3. Wherefore also it comes to pass, that the "most perfect" among them addict themselves without fear to all those kinds of forbidden deeds of which the Scriptures assure us that "they who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." For instance, they make no scruple about eating meats offered in sacrifice to idols, imagining that they can in this way contract no defilement. Then, again, at every heathen festival celebrated in honour of the idols, these men are the first to assemble; and to such a pitch do they go, that some of them do not even keep away from that bloody spectacle hateful both to God and men, in which gladiators either fight with wild beasts, or singly encounter one another. Others of them yield themselves up to the lusts of the flesh with the utmost greediness, maintaining that carnal things should be allowed to the carnal nature, while spiritual things are provided for the spiritual. Some of them, moreover, are in the habit of defiling those women to whom they have taught the above doctrine, as has frequently been confessed by those women who have been led astray by certain of them, on their returning to the Church of God, and acknowledging this along with the rest of their errors. (Irenaeus. Against Heresies. Book 1, Chapter 6, Verse 3).

Perhaps I should add that before Irenaeus wrote the above, Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna publicly condemned and stood up against Valentinus.

Later, the Orthodox Catholic apologist Arnobius (died 330) warned against the type of fasts that pagans had and even seemed to warn about a Mardi Gras banquet followed by a fast:

What say you, O wise sons of Erectheus? what, you citizens of Minerva? The mind is eager to know with what words you will defend what it is so dangerous to maintain, or what arts you have by which to give safety to personages and causes wounded so mortally. This is no false mistrust, nor are you assailed with lying accusations: the infamy of your Eleusinia is declared both by their base beginnings and by the records of ancient literature, by the very signs, in fine, which you use when questioned in receiving the sacred things,—" I have fasted, and drunk the draught; I have taken out of the mystic cist, and put into the wicker-basket; I have received again, and transferred to the little chest" (Arnobius. Against the Heathen, Book V, Chapter 26).

The feast of Jupiter is tomorrow. Jupiter, I suppose, dines, and must be satiated with great banquets, and long filled with eager cravings for food by fasting, and hungry after the usual interval (Against the Heathen, Book VII, Chapter 32).

Notice that at least two Catholic writers (Irenaeus and Arnobius) condemned holidays that sound a lot like Carnaval/Mardi Gras because of its ties to pagan idolatry.

Hislop believed that Arnobius was teaching against what became known as Lent (Two Babylons, p. 106). Perhaps it should be noted that in the late 2nd century, Tertullian also warned against "Christians" participating in events that also honored Minerva (please see the article Is January 1st a Date for Christians Celebrate?).

Lent, however is a time that the Church of Rome adopted. Pope Gregory the Great (c.540-604) moved its beginning to a Wednesday.

Since those who follow the faith of the Church of Rome may abstain from meats, sweets, and/or other carnal pleasures during Lent, various ones decided that, similar to various heathen observances, having a party the evening before and indulge in things that some may give up the next day was a good idea.

The idea of Mardi Gras did not come from the Bible.

Does the Bible Endorse or Condemn Holidays Like Mardi Gras/Carnaval?

Notice something warned against in the Book of Proverbs:

20 Do not mix with winebibbers,
Or with gluttonous eaters of meat;
21 For the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty,
And drowsiness will clothe a man with rags. (Proverbs 23:20-21)

Does that not sound like it is warning against participating in activities such as Mardi Grs/Carnaval?

Furthermore, notice that the Bible repeatedly warns against using pagan practices to worship God:

29 When the LORD your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, 30 take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, 'How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.' 31 "You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods. 32 Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it (Deuteronomy 12:29-32, NKJV).

2 Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. 3 For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe (Jeremiah 10:2-3, KJV).

Notice also want the New Testament teaches:

29...abstain from things offered to idols (Acts 15:29, NKJV).

14 Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? 15 And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? 16 And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. (2 Corinthians 6:14-16, NKJV)

9 What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? 20 Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. (1 Corinthians 10:19-21, NKJV)

But because most who profess Christianity do not heed these warnings, they are disobeying God's instructions. The following are the same passages from the Catholic New Jerusalem Bible translation: are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols(Acts 15:29, NJB).

14 Do not harness yourselves in an uneven team with unbelievers; how can uprightness and law-breaking be partners, or what can light and darkness have in common? 15 How can Christ come to an agreement with Beliar and what sharing can there be between a believer and an unbeliever? 16 The temple of God cannot compromise with false gods, and that is what we are -- the temple of the living God. (2 Corinthians 6:14-16, NJB)

19 What does this mean? That the dedication of food to false gods amounts to anything? Or that false gods themselves amount to anything? 20 No, it does not; simply that when pagans sacrifice, what is sacrificed by them is sacrificed to demons who are not God. I do not want you to share with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons as well; you cannot have a share at the Lord's table and the demons' table as well. (1 Corinthians 10:19-21, NJB)

So, whether translated by Protestants or Catholics, being involved in pagan-related observances is not appropriate for Christians according to the New Testament.

Bird Masks and Indecent Exposure

Some wear a variety of masks and costumes to celebrate Mardi Gras.

In some areas, I have noticed a tendency for partiers at Mardi Gras to wear bird masks. Notice some information about them:

The largest pandemic (Black Death) of 1348 - 1351 was brought to Europe by Genoese sailors from the East...It was believed that the mask with a beak that made doctors look like ancient Egyptian deities repelled the disease. The beak's function was to protect the doctor from foul smell of the sick. The tip of the beak was filled with strong-smelling herbs that made breathing in the constant stench of plague easier.  Plague Doctors constantly chewed garlic for prevention, and the beak protected others from the garlic odor. In addition, doctors put incense on a special sponge and placed it in the nose and ears. To prevent suffocation from this bouquet of smells, the beak had two small vents. The mask also had a glass insert for eyes protection. A long waxed coat and leather or oiled clothes made ​​of thick fabric were required to avoid contact with infected patients. Often clothes were soaked with a mixture of camphor, oil and wax. In reality, it allowed to some extent to avoid bites of plague carries - fleas, and protected from the airborne disease, although people were not aware of it at the time. The costume was completed with a leather hat with a hood with a cape under it covering the joint between the mask and clothing. Costumes varied depending on the location and doctors' financial resources.

Notice that bird masks they were used by doctors in the Middle Ages, despite coming from ancient Egyptian deities.  Most of these doctors also probably claimed to be Roman or Eastern Orthodox Catholic.

Some where nearly nothing to celebrate Mardi Gras/Carnaval:

Carnival…five-day annual exaltation of music, booze and flesh…The rotund King Momo embodies Carnival, a raucous free-for-all where excesses are encouraged and the natural order of things is turned upside down: men dress as women…In addition to the elaborate two-day samba group parade and the high-dollar costumed balls where the rich spend a lot to wear very little in the most exclusive company, Rio’s free, open-to-all street Carnival is bigger than ever.

For as long as locals remember, the sight of people relieving themselves – and the stench of their steamy puddles – has been as much a part of Carnival as half-naked women, samba schools, drag queens, body paint, and drunk and sun-burned foreigners.

Mardi Gras is not just a week-long party for New Orleans bar-goers, millions of people around the country celebrate the raving party.

Mardi Gras is infamous for public nudity, chaotic parties, ingesting copious amounts of alcohol...

The Christian-themed holiday serves as one last hooray before Lent and giving up delicacies until Easter. People party hard for the week leading up to Lent and Ash Wednesday. This usually involves a massive parade, numerous mini-celebrations and masquerade balls sporting gold, green and purple, which represent power, faith and justice.

Citizens hold nothing back, including their sense of humility, during the few days included in Carnival season. Women typically strip for meaningless colorful beads, chocolate or plastic coins thrown from floats, and wear even less out at bars. The women have no shame and the men have no boundaries.

Mardi Gras is not truly a Christian holiday. It should be clear that excessive booze, cross-dressing, and flesh exposure does not seem to fit with the Bible’s comments about modesty:

8 I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; 9 in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation...(1 Timothy 2:8-9)

13 Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts. (Romans 13:13-14)

Christians should not promote paganism nor lewdness.

Some Call a Version of it the Devil's Carnival

Here are two reports about the version in Bolivia:

Devil’s Carnival (La Diablada)


When:  19 – 23 Feb 2009 (annual), Where: Oruro

Every spring, Oruro goes into carnival mode. The costumes on show are phenomenal and include anything from llama herders to Amazonian Indians sporting feathered head-dresses. The combination of colour, outlandish masks, music, dance and fireworks is bound to leave you wide-eyed.

One of the highlights are the devil dancers, the tradition of which derives from a peculiar kind of devil worship. Oruro is a mining town and the locals, spending so much time underground, decided to adopt a god of the underworld. Christian tradition dictates that this must be the devil and the Oruro faithful thus adopted Satan, or Supay, as their god.

They would perform sacrifices to the devil on a regular basis to ensure their safety in the mines and the devil dancing in the carnival derives from their belief in Satan as their protector underground.

Festivals To Get You Going

FF, UK – Feb 18, 2009
When: The 10 days around Ash Wednesday
Where: Oruro, Bolivia

What: The Oruro Carnival is Bolivia’s largest annual celebration which draws in about 400,000 people every year thanks to it’s extraordinary centrepiece, La Diablada – The Dance Of The Devil.

The 4km long procession takes place on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday and features so many entertainers that it can actually last up to 20 hours. The whole debacle follows a brightly costumes San Miguel character, and behind him come the more famous devils and a whole host of other beings.

The chief devil, Lucifer, get’s treated to the best costume, obviously, and swans around in a velvet cape and ornate mask, naturally. The rest of the procession follows and is drenched in jewels and precious metals with offerings for the owner of the underground minerals, El Tio.

When the procession arrives at the city’s football stadium there is a huge performance which shows the battle between good and evil – wow, that must take some dedicated choreographer! After it is apparent that good has triumphed over evil – horary – the dancers can finally head home and put their feet up. The festival continues throughout the week before the grand finale on the Monday after Ash Wednesday, which is known ad the Dia del Agua – the day of water – and involves everyone pelting each other with water bombs.

Celebrations for the devil and/or his plan would seem highly inappropriate for those who profess to follow Jesus.  Jesus did not observe anything like Mardis Gras or Carnaval, nor did His disciples or their real followers.  In the Spring time, they observed days such as Passover and Pentecost; the Bible is clear about this (Luke 2:41-42; 22:7-13; Acts 2:1).

Of course, not only is carnival not in the Bible, neither are Ash Wednesday or Lent (they did not come until centuries after the original apostles died) as none of them are original practices of the true Church.  Nor are any practices of the Continuing Church of God today (we observe the same days that Jesus and His disciples did, like Passover and Pentecost).

What About Shrove Tuesday?

As an alternative to Mardis Gras, some keep Shrove Tuesday. In 2015, it was endorsed by the improperly named publication Christianity Today:

February 17, 2015

Can eating pancakes enrich Christian piety? As a part of the traditional celebration of Shrove Tuesday, I believe flapjacks can build our faith.

For those of us who love Jesus and Aunt Jemima, this is very good news.

Shrove Tuesday is essentially the British take on Mardi Gras or Carnival. But instead of flamboyant parties filled with riotous excess, the understated British gather calmly in their homes on the day before Lent to fill themselves with pancakes.

Why pancakes? In medieval Europe, Christians often gave up eating rich foods like meat, eggs, and milk for the 40-day period of penance, prayer, and preparation leading to Easter. The practice and duration of the ritual corresponded to Christ’s 40 days of fasting in the desert.

During Lent, perishable goods would spoil, so pancakes—traditionally just eggs and milk mixed with flour—were the ideal meal for consuming Lenten no-no foods. …

During the Reformation, many Protestants, especially my English Puritan ancestors, dismissed Lent and Shrove Tuesday as superstitious Catholic observances aimed at earning God’s favor through human works.

But the palate proved mightier than the Puritans. Most Britons didn’t want to give up pancakes—even if, without an austere Lent, there wasn’t any real reason to use up all the eggs and milk. Eating pancakes was reason enough for a party. To this day, people all over Britain and in scattered Anglophone countries eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.

But with the underlying religious motivation largely gone, the occasion is now more commonly known as Pancake Tuesday.

No, eating pancakes today does not show that one is a Christian exercising biblical piety. Pancake desire is not a sign of faith. Shrove Tuesday, of course, is not in the Bible.  Consistent with the current ecumenical movement, more and more Protestants are observing practices that they once realized were improper.

Observing non- biblical holidays as religious festivals is not the way God wishes to be worshiped.  Notice something that Jesus taught:

23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.  24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.  (John 4:23-24)

The truth is that most who profess Christianty will not worship God in truth and worship Him as He commands.

Mardis Gras and Shrove Tuesday do not honor the God of the Bible.  True worshipers do not take part in such false worship.  Do you really believe what Jesus taught?

Mardi Gras tends to be associated with drunkenness, lust, and other practices that the Bible condemns. Shrove Tuesday points to Lent, a repackaged pagan holiday.

It really should not be considered as something that real Christians would participate in. Notice also something that the Apostle John wrote:

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

The practices associated with Mardis Gras and Carnaval tend to be lustful, have “pre-Christian origins,” and are not endorsed in the Bible.  Partially because of their observance, they result in people not understanding God’s plan of salvation for them.

Perhaps those who profess Christ should follow His example and observe the same days that He did in the Spring, such as Passover.

There is also a related YouTube video Mardi Gras & Carnaval: Are they for Christians?

Thiel B. Mardi Gras: The Devil's Carnival? (c) 2013/2014/2015 0217

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