Historically, Carnival had its origins in the traditional topsy-turvydom of the medieval Christmas season, which in turn was grounded in the doctrine of the Incarnation and expressed in Mary’s words in the Magnificat: “He has put down the mighty from their seat and raised up the humble and meek. He has fed the poor with good things and sent the rich empty away” (Luke 1:52-53). Mary rejoices in a God who overturns privilege and favors the poor and the hungry. The church, whether Catholic, Presbyterian, or Baptist, has too often been supported by and sided with the the rich and the well-fed. If we aren’t rich ourselves, we long to be. There have been wonderful exceptions: the early desert fathers, St. Francis of Assissi, Gustavo Gutierrez and Dorothy Day to name just four. There are many others.
During the Middle Ages, the Carnival season gradually expanded (especially in Italy) to fill the period from Christmas to the Tuesday before Lent. There is a profound theological message about God’s acceptance of the marginalized at work in the traditions of Carnival. When those in authority wished to suppress Carnival’s critique of the powerful, they demonized Carnival by separating it from Christmas, confining it to the last few days before Lent, and then declaring it a last pagan fling before Lent.
The Feast of Fools used to be an integral part of the liturgy of the feast of the Circumcision (January 1), insisting on the astonishing truth that God not only became human in Jesus of Nazareth, but that God became poor, homeless, and a victim of unjust social structures. Incarnation is the ultimate rite of reversal. Carnival draws us all into participation in that reversal: it’s about God becoming human, and humans learning how to become divine. If we flip the dominant culture’s script, maybe we can all meet in the street with masks of the “other” on and see our commonality and connection.
We invite you to join us in topsy-turvydom by supporting our 2016 residency in Minneapolis. You can donate here: http://carnivalderesistance.com/support/donate/