What is Fat Tuesday? Most of us in the United States know it by the French term Mardi Gras.
That’s right. That crazy party going on down in N’orleans right now has its root in Christianity. A trip to the French Quarter before Ash Wednesday you’ll find 3 B’s- Booze, Beads, Boobs, along with some delicious Creole food. Carnival is pretty much the same thing is happen in Rio, just with a Latin flavor. Go to a slightly colder climate, like Ireland, you’ll find less skin being shown, and more pancakes being eaten.
Catholic communities all over the world have their own traditions to celebrate the end of Shrovetide and the Eve of Lent that begins on Ash Wednesday. Whether you spell it carnival, carnaval, or carnevale it’s a goodbye to meat. It more than likely comes from the Italian carne levare- to take away flesh, since Lent is a time from abstaining from meat, especially on Fridays as a way to honor Good Friday, when Jesus died on the Cross. In many places Carnival lasts from the end of Christmastide (depending on what is followed it’s usually Epiphany, January 6th) to the end of Shrovetide (the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday). Traditionally, Carnival was a time to eat up meat, eggs, sugar, and dairy foods. There were even specific Sundays to finish up the meat and cheese by in the Eastern Rite Church! The 7th Sunday before Easter was known as Meatfare Sunday. Cheesefare Sunday, the 8th before Easter, was often a time friends and family ask for forgiveness from each other. (I think this one is a good one to bring into widespread practice) The Orthodox Church still practices very strict abstaining and fasting.
Shrovetide was also a time to get thee to confession! So that a person could go into the Season of Lent in a state of grace in preparation of Easter.
Some other bits of semi-interesting info:
If you went to Mass this past Sunday, you might have heard and sung along with the choir (sing louder!) a song that included Alleluia! That’s because that’s the last time we’re able to sing or say it until the Easter Vigil!
This past Sunday was known in the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite as Quinquagesima Sunday. In the Ordinariate Form of the Latin Rite, we call these Sundays by their numbers. This year it was the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Quinquagesima means fiftieth, as it’s 50 days before Easter, including the Sundays during Lent.
The 2 Sundays before this also had names: Sexagesima (60th) and Septuagesima (70th).
Septuagesima Sunday still marks the beginning of the Carnival season in some places.
The colors of Mardi Gras have nothing to do with the French! It was actually the Russian Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich Romanov. He visited New Orleans in 1872 and suggested the colors of Gold, Purple, and Green. The Rex or King of the Mardi Gras parade that year “decreed” those be the colors and it stuck and spread!
Green represents faith. Purple represent justice. And gold represents power.
Paczki (punch-keys) are a Polish tradition. Delicious deep fried dough rolled in some sort of sugar. Sometimes they are filled with jellies or cremes. I think they’re best when they are straight out of the bowl of sugar, still melt your face off hot. But I won’t say no to a cold paczki.
In, Chicago and surrounding area, with it’s large Catholic Polish communities, paczki sell out quickly. There are some bakeries that have lines of people waiting in the morning. There are people who have been going to the same bakery for 35 years or more! They are so yummy!
Speaking of Polish, here are a few ways to say Fat Tuesday from around the world.
Polish- tłusty czwartek
In Denmark and Norway Carnival is Fastelavn
And in Slavic countries they hold Maslenitsa
Do you have any plans for Fat Tuesday?
A traditional saying from Northern Germany is “sausages and sauerkraut are eaten at Shrovetide, good luck will follow.” So I think that’s what we’ll have for dinner before the parish council meeting I’ll be attending.