Many historians and anthropologists have tried to “unpack” Carnival and undercover its “meaning.” Predictably, they tend to see Carnival as an act of subversion on the part of “folk culture” against the repressive and stuffy culture of the upper classes, or else they see Carnival as a “release valve” that allowed the masses to escape from the rigors of Christianity and blow off steam. I find these explanations to be wholly inadequate. They are attempts at shoving Carnival into modern categories of psychology, social discipline, and class conflict. Indeed, it is a mistake to view Carnival as an exception to the Medieval Christian order. Rather, it was something that had a place in Christendom because of how Christians themselves understood and practiced Christianity: in the late Middle Ages in many parts of Europe everyone from the peasant to the noble, to the priest and bishop participated—it was a part of what Christians did.
I’m not sure there is an easy explanation for Carnival. It is only with extreme difficulty that we moderns can set aside our relentlessly scientific categories of thought and so understand what the revelers were up to. But I do think that it had something to do with their understanding of sin and with their understanding of time.... (more at link above).
February 18, 2013
Why Mardi Gras?
Fascinating look behind the medieval mindset on sin and salvation.: