I think we can all agree that some holidays are better than others. Christmas, for example, is way better than May Day, and New Year’s Eve is generally better than a quinceañera, which generally features hours of seemingly endless sexual tension with the birthday girl that ends fruitlessly when you find out what quinceañera means in Spanish. Some holidays, though, are head and shoulders above the rest. Take, for example, the Fourth of July, where we celebrate the rich heritage and freedom of our great country by shooting bottle rockets at squirrels and accidentally setting your neighbor’s garage on fire when I was 12.
But no holiday, not even the Fourth of July, can compare to the granddaddy of them all: Ash Wednesday. For those of you who don’t know, Ash Wednesday is the day after Carnival that commences the sacrosanct forty-day period of Lent that culminates in the celebration of Easter, otherwise known as the day that Jeff Gordon narrowly won the 1999 Daytona 500 after perfectly executing a daring two-wide pass on Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Rusty Wallace.
Ash Wednesday is the most festive of Christian holidays: families congregate worldwide to decorate the Ash Wednesday tree, sing Ash Wednesday carols and sacrifice an Ash Wednesday goat to attain great prosperity for many Ash Wednesdays to come. The best part, however, is that each Ash Wednesday, dutiful Christians around the word give something up for the entirety of Lent out of respect for G.O.D., which stands for “Greatest of Drivers” and is a thinly veiled reference to Jeff Gordon’s 1999 Daytona 500 victory.
As a Catholic and a fan of G.O.D, on and off the racetrack, I take great pride in what I give up for Lent, since what you end up sacrificing is directly proportional to how good of a Catholic you are — which, in turn, is directly proportional to how much you hate “The Da Vinci Code” and Dan Brown’s engaging, page-turning mockery of everything that is sacred and Catholic.
In the past, I’ve dutifully sacrificed eating broccoli, not drinking beer and, since the tender age of 11, going to church — a sacrifice that I devoutly continue to this day. I also take great interest in what those around me give up, since it’s the duty of any good Catholic to relentlessly meddle in other people’s business. So, I asked my roommate what he was giving up for Lent. He looked at me quizzically and said, “Jewish people don’t celebrate Lent.”
He raised an interesting point. In general, Jews don’t observe legendary NASCAR triumphs, since their tradition is much older and largely based in the great motorcycle races of the 1920s. Nonetheless, I suggested he give something up out of respect for Patrick Ewing, who appears frequently in Christian texts and is widely regarded as the greatest Jewish basketball player ever.
He thought about it for a second, and then replied, “I’m going to give up sex.” I chuckled lightly and thought to myself, “That won’t be hard for you.” I then looked at him and said aloud, “That won’t be hard for you.” He reacted negatively to this. But it was clearly not a difficult sacrifice for him.
Knowing I wouldn’t get much more help from him, I decided to change approaches. We’re just kids in this big, scary world, and we don’t know that much about spirituality or matters of theistic consequence. After all, kids our age are more focused on finding boyfriends and girlfriends, getting drunk on the weekends, and being condescending to people who don’t vote for Barack Obama. Instead, I thought about the age-old tenets of Catholicism. What exactly is Catholicism? What benevolent, pious traditions make it the beloved bastion of tolerance and love that it is today?
Upon thinking this, I knew exactly what I would give up for G.O.D. Suddenly, Lent was not just a matter of making a sacrifice, it was also a matter of paying respect to the proud history of my faith. As such, an age-old Catholic tradition is abstaining from eating meat on Friday, but that would obviously not be very difficult since the dining halls usually run out of meat by Wednesday. But what would truly show my reverence for Jeff Gordon’s sacrifices would be to eat meat and take no pleasure in it, demonstrating that I am such a devout Catholic I can partake in sin but not enjoy it. I resolve that, every Friday — nay, every day of the week, since I love G.O.D so much — I will have a delicious, medium-rare 20 oz. sirloin with light seasoning and salt at the Central Steak House. But I will not enjoy it.
Moreover, Catholics generally abstain from drinking alcohol during Lent. It’s admirable, yes, but not exactly difficult, since it’s a sacrifice they’ve honed in the many years that have elapsed since Jeff Gordon’s 1999 win. Instead, I resolve to drink alcohol, but I will not enjoy it. Each day, I will pour myself a tall draft of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale from a keg that I will keep ice cold in a sacrificial Lent kegerator, and I will slowly not enjoy it with pretzels while I watch SportsCenter.
And, in perhaps my proudest act of worship, I will use common contraceptive methods while engaging in sinful intercourse, but, since no sexual act can distract me from G.O.D., I will be thinking the entire time about spreading Catholicism via impregnation. Also, I will not enjoy it. At all.
I hope now you understand the holiness of Ash Wednesday and Lent. While you’re opening your Ash Wednesday presents and sacrificing Skittles, take a moment to think about the great men who sacrificed their personal lives for fame, fortune and celebrity on the professional racing circuit. Think about what it means to be a Catholic, or Christian, and think about the pain that those men suffered in their right legs after several continuous hours of driving in that fateful Daytona 500. If you’re like me, you’ll realize that you have to forgo something drastic to show your faith, because G.O.D. is worth it. And so is J.E.S.U.S., which of course stands for, “Jesus, Earnhardt Sure Understands Speed.”
Daniel Zier is the only straight male columnist at the Yale Daily News.