Somewhere deep in the human nature struggling against the urge to be unique is a dark urge to be unknown.
Once a year the human conscience needs release. This submerged drive is the root of masquerades, masked holidays, Mardi Gras, Carnival and Purim.
To be masked is to be unrecognizable and to be unrecognizable is to be blameless. Attribution for crime and indecency, for gluttony and drunkenness is near to impossible.
Under this guise we can allow our dark wants to spread out from the corners to which they are so often banished. We can lust over those we shouldn’t lust for, we can eat what we shouldn’t eat and we can drink all that we thirst for. As we are hidden we remain unjudged. As we are all hidden we also cannot judge.
Mardi Gras, Carnival and Purim, all days falling in February sanctified by religion to throw away our don’t s, take up guise and prowl the streets in extraordinary exuberance and freedom.
As humans, do we need these days of guiltless celebration? Like erotic release do we yearn to revel in all that makes us unfit for every day niceties?
Maybe. These holidays celebrate, not sin, but the beautiful dualism that is humanity. We are composed of darkness and light, faith and doubt, death and life.
It’s no coincidence these holidays fall in the heart of deep winter, when the sunless cold makes us feel so far from G-d.
For thousands of years, first in Rome and Jerusalem, humans celebrated the holidays of masked public revelry. Usually taking enjoyment to the next level right before a time of religious piety.
Mardi Gras and Carnival are a climax before the next day’s serenity of Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season. A get-it-out-of-your-system celebration before a time of purity. Masks are donned, and scant clothing is permitted as well as excessive drinking and eating. Mardi Gras literally means “Fat Tuesday”, after all. The day to be gluttonous before being pious.
The Jewish holiday, Purim, works in much the same way. A celebration of life after being persecuted by the Persians. Purim falls before the beginning of Passover fasting. In Israel parades called “Adloyada” meaning “Until one didn’t know the other” are held. The name refers to the drinking feast described in the Book of Esther, after which the guests couldn’t tell their friends apart from other attendees. In these Parades all dress in masquerades and celebrate publicly.
In a generation whose fear of religion has driven young adults and teenagers into the arms of agnosticism and atheism, maybe a holiday simply celebrating the beauty of the human condition is just what we need.
Maybe, celebrating the common factors that unite us, such as food, love and sex would be the answer to the end of wars of ideology and pride.
It’s possible these ancient rituals of celebrating before times of restriction could be adapted to form a more perfect union between all faiths. A universal holiday celebrated for the pleasure and happiness of everyone in the entire world, with no importance on creed, race or nationality.
These days are beautiful now, but with the entire world in attendance it could be even more beautiful. Donning masks and beautiful attire, celebrating together over good wine and drink. Celebrating life, love, hope, and the few short years we have to spend on this beautiful planet.
So this urge we feel, deep under our pride and prejudice, to feel unknown, obscured in the crowd, may be a desire to feel a part of a whole. One and the same as those next to us. To share a journey with fellows who understand our plights and joys.
This is your month for that. So many holidays celebrating in masquerade. So happy Purim, Carnival or Mardi Gras, whatever it is you’ll take part in this year. Or if none of the above, steal a mask and sneak into a crowd, remember no one knows you, and be someone you never thought you’d be.