March 2003 A Conscious Evolution Newsletter
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Lest We Forget...
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The Star Family Picnic
Masquerades of March
Survival of the Spirit:
Holocaust Survivors' Son
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The War on Freedom
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Metamorphosis
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Volume 2, Number 3

Opinions presented in Metamorphosis are those of their respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of others associated with the newsletter.


Masquerades of March

by Maria Barron


A feathery mask, a noisemaker and a bottle of wine are in order if you want to celebrate a couple of the more unbridled March holidays in the proper spirit. The Mardi Gras bashes leading up to the March 5 beginning of the Christian Lent, followed by the Jewish Festival of Purim on March 19, offer back-to-back reasons to stage a rousing masquerade ball.

So grab a costume and consider: What are you hiding? In the story at the heart of Purim, Esther, Queen of Persia, was hiding her Jewish identity in a land where Jews had first arrived as slaves and then remained as an underclass. Her husband, King Ahasuerus, had done away with his first wife and held a beauty contest to select Esther as a replacement. Her outer beauty was all that mattered to him.

But when Esther’s Uncle Mordechai warned her that the king’s top advisor had hatched a plan to massacre the Jews of Persia and steal their property, Esther knew she must find her inner strength. She fasted and prayed, and then she invited her husband, King Ahasuerus, and his evil advisor, Haman, to a lavish supper. The men feasted and imbibed and had a fine time, night after night for three days, at the special dinners Esther gave in their honor. The king grew ever more pleased and more effusive in his promises to grant Esther any wish she liked.

Finally, she revealed her Jewish roots and Haman’s brutal plans for her people. The king signed an order allowing the Jews to defend themselves and their property, and Haman suffered the fate he had conspired to impose on others. He lived just long enough to see Esther’s Jewish uncle, Mordechai, awarded the honors Haman had wanted for his own.

Queen Esther’s story is told at Purim parties, and many glasses of wine are hoisted in her honor. In fact, in Jewish tradition, on Purim it is officially OK to drink until you don’t know the difference between the statements “Blessed be Mordechai” and “Cursed be Haman.” Purim celebrations are meant to be rowdy, with everyone encouraged to hiss and boo and rattle noisemakers at every mention of the villain. Disguises, masks and costumes are another part of the fun in honor of the Persian beauty who turned out to be a Jewish heroine.

The appeal of dressing up and partying with abandon carries through to the more recently dreamt-up masquerade known as Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras is the blow-out “Fat Tuesday” bash that heralds the arrival of the Christian season of Lent. While Lent itself is a solemn time of prayer, fasting and sacrifice, the season’s purpose is to prepare worshippers for the definitive joy of the Christian faith - symbolized in the Easter resurrection. And so ultimately, at the heart of Mardi Gras is the same theme found in Esther’s story - a surprise salvation of believers, against all odds, from the snares of the agents of death.

Mardi Gras originated in France, where it traditionally caps off the three-day Carnival festival, a period for indulging in the joys of life before buckling down to the spiritual discipline of Lent. Transplanted to the American city of New Orleans, Louisiana, by French colonists, Carnival has grown into a two-week series of parties in New Orleans. And Mardi Gras itself, March 4 this year, has become an even more riotous day of uninhibited merriment. Parades, dressing in elaborate costumes, dancing and drinking are the primary indulgences of the huge street parties where revelry is celebrated for its own sake.

When “Fat Tuesday” ends at midnight, sobriety descends in the form of Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in western churches, when Catholics go to church to be marked with a cross of ash upon the forehead - to be reminded of mortality and the impermanence of physical form. Eastern Orthodox Lent begins the following Monday. In the 40-day season, Christians are encouraged to sacrifice, to fast and to pray, in preparation to “receive the risen Lord” at the celebration of Christ’s resurrection at Easter.

The March masquerades of Mardi Gras and Purim share an exuberance, a delight with disguise, and an attitude of joyful abandonment of worry, which together suggest that every now and then it is refreshing and renewing for people’s sensible seriousness to take a back seat to high spirits and a rowdy good time.

In a way, both celebrations are symbolic of the presence of God coming into a situation through astounding and sudden shifts of fortune, lifting us from the terror of impending doom to the heights of happiness through miraculous rescue. In Lent and Easter, Christians see the activity of Christ rescuing believers from mortality just as surely as Queen Esther’s actions saved her people from the deadly plot of Haman - despite how dire both situations appeared.

Rabbis like to point out at Purim that God is never mentioned in the scriptural story of Esther. They say the power of God is present in the story, but hidden, as if behind a mask. As we know, things are not always as they seem. The masquerades of March can remind us just how surprising life can be … and that impending doom can be reversed … and that sometimes, being giddy with happiness is the perfect reaction.


For a detailed listing of this month’s world holidays, see
the March Interactive Calendar