Monday, February 20, 2012


A Venice Canavale Party-Goer in Victorian Costume

Hello My Friend and Welcome.
We continue our Lenten/Easter posts today by examining Shrove Tuesday. The inaugural post of the series, Quinqaugesima Saunday can be found just after this one. The Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday are known as Shrovetide, from the old English word shrive, meaning to confess. People traditionally went to Confession in the days before Lent as a sort of spiritual house cleaning in preparation for the upcoming penitential season of Lent.
In addition to spiritual preparations, Lent also required some actual house cleaning as well. Fats, eggs, and butter were not eaten during Lent, so the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday was the last day to use up those provisions. Making pancakes or waffles used up all three at once. In Merry Old England, we find the rather reserved English letting their hair down by eating pancakes and sausages. This popular custom continues. Today nearly all Anglican churches have a tradition of gathering their members to celebrate a Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper. In England they also have pancake races in which women wearing a dress, apron, and bonnet, must flip a pancake as they run. This practice dates back to a 15th Century homemaker who heard the bell summoning her to church and, not wanting to be late, rushed out her skillet still in hand.
A Dutch Baby Fresh out of the Oven with Blueberries
Instead of the regular Aunt Jemima type pancakes, you might like to try the baked pancake known as a Dutch Baby. Here’s a recipe:
Ingredients: 1 cup flour, 2 Tbsp sugar, 1 cup milk, 3 eggs, pinch of salt and a pinch of nutmeg.
Process: Put an iron skillet in a 425 degree oven and let it heat. Meanwhile, combine the egg and milk and whip until the eggs are dispersed. Add the other ingredients and whisk or beat until smooth. When your skillet is hot, carefully remove from the oven and run a stick of butter around the bottom and sides. Pour in your batter and return to oven for 15 minutes. The edges should be crisp and brown when it comes out. Remove from pan, dust with powdered sugar and top with fruit if desired.
Jokers Marching in Fasching Parade

Since Lent entailed a period of prolonged fasting, Shrove Tuesday represented the last day for feasting. And, since Lent was a somber, penitential time, it was also the last day for parties. Over time Shrove Tuesday became a time for people to eat, drink, and make merry. Nearly all European cities have Carnevale celebrations with parades, costumes and various localized traditions. The same is true of Central and South America.
In France the day came to be called Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras. In Poland, the food of the day is Paczki, pronounced punch-key, large, filled and fried doughnuts. They have become so traditional that many Poles refer to Shrove Tuesday Paczki Day.
Fasching is the somewhat sedate German version of Carnival. As in other places, it’s an opportunity for people to act silly before settling into the serious time of Lent. As part of Fasching, the Thursday before Ash Wednesday is known as Weiberfastnacht, or Women's carnival night. This is the day women are allowed to cut off the tie of any man within reach and kiss any man they like. Faschingsdienstag, or Carnival Tuesday, is the last day of Fasching and when most of the festivities happen. Some of the street parades date as far back as the 14th Century. Fats and eggs make their appearance here in the form of donuts.
Float in Sambadrome in Rio
The word Carnaval or Carnavale, is derived from the Latin word carnelevare, which refers to the taking away of flesh. The Lenten fast of years ago typically eliminated meat from the diet. Over time what began as a quasi-religious celebration has become a secular holiday. Given time and the human proclivity to overdo, this has resulted in the bacchanalian festivities we have today.
Two of the most well-known are the Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans and the Carnaval in Rio.
Being in the Southern Hemisphere, Rio’s Carnaval takes place at the peak of summer and attracts thousands of people from around the world. Carnaval, as it is spelled in Portuguese, is a 4-day celebration. It starts on Saturday, and ends on Shrove Tuesday. Despite the notoriety it generates, the Brazilian festival is of somewhat recent origin. Carnaval balls were imported to Rio from Italy in the late nineteenth century, and reached their peak in the 1950's. The Samba Parade began in the 30's and found a permanent home in 1984 at the Sambodrome. Rio’s Carnaval is known for its fantastic floats, many of which feature nearly naked women.
Mardi Gras Float in New Orleans
Though most people think of Mardi Gras taking place on Shrove Tuesday, the Celebrations in New Orleans begin two weeks before. Driven primarily by the tourist trade, there is at least one major parade each day leading up to the finale on Tuesday. The parades in New Orleans are organized by Carnival krewes. Krewe float riders toss throws to the crowds; the most common throws are strings of colorful plastic beads, doubloons (aluminum or wooden coins impressed with a krewe logo), decorated plastic throw cups, and small toys. While generally considered a raucous event, the New Orleans Mardi Gras celebrations never approach those in Rio.
It seems we have run the gamut from sedate gatherings designed to emphasize the traditions and solemnity of the penitential nature of the Lenten Season to bawdy festivals that are primarily pagan in nature. In thermodynamics the concept of entropy measures the tendency of a process, such as a chemical reaction, to proceed in a direction which reduces its state of order to that of disorder.
Does this same rule apply to human activities as well? Can it be said that when human beings are left to their own devices they inevitably descend from goodness to sinfulness? Jesus spoke of the narrow gate and the wide gate and the seed that fell on infertile ground. St. Paul exhorted early Christians to strive for the higher things of life. The way in which Early Church celebrated Shrove Tuesday versus the way it is celebrated in some places now tends to support the notion that high moral character is only achieved by overcoming the entropy of our lower nature.
Our next post in the series will deal with the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday.
Until then, we wish Peace and Blessings.
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1 comment:

Christine Henderson said...

I'm behind on reading the CW blog chain, so I will comment here. I always learn something from your posts which amuse me, such as the pancake race. I also appreciate your lovely pictures. I have been to both New Orleans and Rio but never to their Fat Tuesday events - way too crowded and crazy for me.

Thanks for reminding folks what this day is really all about.