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Rushing up on us is Fat Tuesday, and basically translated, it is that last time to party your “you know what”  off before repenting and lamenting for all you must give up for the season of lent.  Being the traditionally ecumenically confused kid I once was, raised by a partly semitic family (celebrating passover and Chanukah with the jewish family up the street) and in part High Church Episcopalian family ( I sang in the children’s choir every Weds. after school and Sunday Services, where I developed a crush on an altar boy). I was particularly well-educated, in that they sent me to Lutheran Grammar School where I attended Chapel every Wednesday morning, and Catholic High School, making it my mission to ask questions, press authority, torment nuns and probe Hinduism, Buddhism, and anything “ism” in between just to see their little black and white habits steam. In the end, I called myself a “Jew-pisca” and conformed to a life of balance, until discovering that there was such a thing as basic Christianity, in which I did not have to conform to either principles and rituals and could call upon God and Jesus as I saw them, and grow my faith in my way with less stringent expectations and lets face it, things to memorize and chant.

BUT! The season of Lent has always fascinated me, only because it opens with the tradition of Mardi Gras and FAT TUESDAY!!!!

No where in the world do they celebrate Mardi Gras, or “Carnival” as they call it in Mexico, as they do in Mazatlan. Mazatlan is the second largest city in the state of Sinaloa, and home to one of the largest Carnival Celebrations in the Country.

What is interesting about the Mazatlan tradition, is that it is and has been celebrated in exactly the same fashion for over 100 years, steeping the community deep in tradition. Hit Carnival of Rio De Janeiro, and you will find a carefree lustful experience, it is afterall, RIO! New Orléans on the other hand is reputed to be like that of Veracruz, and absolutely over the top (we have all seen snippets of these), but the celebration of Mazatlan is nothing short of spectacular, and lasts 5 gloriously colorful, celebratory days.

Some locals have been known to run for the hills, literally! They climb up to Oaxaca, they travel to Guadalajara (my own parents are heading there to escape the craziness and the influx of hundreds of people already arriving), and they stock up on goods and close their doors to the outside world and hide.  But for those who love a celebration, and revel in the experience and enjoy the endless party, Mazatlan seafront village becomes home and hospice to carousing and endless festivities.  

There are clowns in the streets and colorful costumes everywhere. The King and Queen of the Carnival are selected from Mazatlan’s most élite society of young men and women, and they are decked out in brilliant traditional colors and costumes, with beaded and embroidered details of seamstresses that takes months to create and fit just right. “The queen especially is chosen not just for her beauty, but for her connections. The king, originally dubbed El Rey Feo (“the Ugly King”), is now called El Rey de la Alegria, or “the King of Happiness.” Both preside over the parade and other carnival events wearing sequined, shiny outfits, but it is the queen who really sparkles.” (mexican guru)The King and Queen are paraded on masterfully created floats and joyous colors and the streets are lined with thousands of people angling to get a look, a peek at them!

It is here that you will see Ballet in the baseball stadium, because no where else can such a sizeable crowd be accommodated. Literary contests, poetry contests, Ranchero’s magical song, and children’s competitions are part of the 4 day event.

There are rock concerts and Tambora (the polka beat mixed with spanish guitar) concerts and DJ’s and nightclubs that party all night long. It is one endless celebration, one endless party, and one last chance to do everything insanely crazy and decadent before settling down for 40 days of quiet respite and reflection ….giving it all up for extended Masses and introspection in respect of Lent.

On the Saturday preceding Lent big ships lurking offshore conduct a mock battle, and using fireworks instead of ammo, they engage in explosions of colorful fireworks that light up the night sky and reflect on the magnificent blue ocean waters of night. It is a spectacle to behold and one not to be missed if at all possible!

This time of Carnival, opening on February 11 and lasting until the 16th of February is not one to miss! It is a joyful wonderful, exciting time, surrounded in community, and splendor but moreover community and pride. Pride of a country steeped deep in tradition, and steadfast in commitment to those traditions. While the world around this community is inundated with ravaging horror stories of warfare, and political campaigns that create chaos and instill fear in the heart of the traveller, the destinations, each unique unto itself, readies as though none of these horrors ever existed, for the celebration of a lifetime that comes but once a year. And why shouldn’t they?   Because there IS NO FEAR. There is no reason to be frozen in our place and immobilized, the BOOGEY MAN is no more present in Mazatlan, Mexico than he is in San Francisco, California. He is no more threatening in Mazatlan, Mexico than he is in the Garden District of New Orleans, LA.

Don’t allow your fear to keep you from living your life and taking the trip and adventure of a lifetime. Don’t allow the world around you, the dirty laundry of the media, driven by ratings, keep you from living a life rich in experiences and color and in full bloom. GO to MAZATLAN. Celebrate the Carnival, there is plenty of time to reflect on it afterwards….40 days of lent.

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