I grew up and still live in Louisiana, which has a strong Catholic presence, and every year I knew that Lent was here even before I followed the liturgical calendar because of one thing: Mardi Gras. Big parades, beads and king cakes made their way even to the northern end of the state, which is just as likely to be populated by independent fundamental Baptists and Pentecostals as anyone whose practice even resembles Catholicism. When I go out of state (exceptions — Mississippi, east Texas and southern Arkansas), people always ask about three things: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans and Mardi Gras. It’s like Mardi Gras is a part of my cultural identity, even though I’m not from the French south.

But this year, the thought of Mardi Gras — a non-holiday that is celebrated by Catholics, Baptists and atheists alike — has left me a little nauseous. Aside from the fact that the revelries these days bear a distinctly pagan flavor, it flies in the face of intention the Lenten season. Hey, we’re about to start fasting, so let’s have an orgy.

I’m not opposed to parades, beads or beer. I like the idea of random displays of public jubilation involving lots of feathers and masks. But let’s just be honest — Mardi Gras is not a joyful celebration of the coming of our salvation, a last bit of glee before we take 40 days to seriously contemplate Christ’s sacrifice. It’s an excuse for the world to co-opt the Christian calendar and get drunk…and it’s an excuse a lot of the Church likes. Pathetic.

Maybe I’m just grouchy.