Ash Wednesday is this coming week…and before it comes a day (or, depending on your country, weeks) of last hurrahs.
The Tuesday before Ash Wednesday goes by many names, including Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, and Pancake Day. The start of the celebration – in some countries – actually starts at Epiphany on January 6th which is the night celebrated as the evening that the Maji visited Christ as an infant. Imagine, over an entire month of Carnival pre-celebrations! In this case, a diet plan may definitely be needed. But I digress…
Depending on where you live and what your family background is, you may know Fat Tuesday by one of many names – the most common are:
1. Shrove Tuesday: the word shrove finds its origins in the word shrive, which means to confess. Confession, and subsequent penance, is a key part of the Lent season. Many parishes offer additional penance services just before Lent begins so you can begin the Lenten season with a clean heart. This, coupled with the “space” you’ve made in your life by abstaining from something during Lent, gives you the perfect way to look into ourselves, examine our conscience, acknowledge our own sins, and move into a closer relationship with God.
2. Fat Tuesday: the English translation for the French words “Mardi Gras”. A common food consumed on Fat Tuesday is a Kings Cake, or a cake of three strands with a coin or other trinket baked inside the cake. The person who gets the slice with the trinket is said to have good luck for the coming year. This tradition is actually a delayed celebration from Epiphany; in countries where the celebration (Carnival) starts on Epiphany, the Kings Cake is brought out that first night. As it is more common in the United States to celebrate just one day – Fat Tuesday – the Kings Cake has become more of a tradition to eat as part of the Mardi Gras celebration.
3. Mardi Gras: literally translates to “Fat Tuesday” and is famously known as the last day of eating rich, fatty foods before the Lenten period begins. The “fat” relates to the tradition in some parts of eating the fattened calf on the last day of the Carnival celebration…the Tuesday before Lent begins.
4. Pancake (or Paczki in Polish) Day: traditionally, eggs, milk, and sugar were given up during Lent – Pope Gregory set the rule that “we abstain from flesh meat, and from all things that come from flesh, as milk, eggs, and cheese”. Families (pre-refrigerators) often made pancakes or doughnuts on the Tuesday before Lent began. A key here is that the pancakes themselves aren’t what you normally think of when you say pancake – here, it’s more of a dessert pancake as opposed to the breakfast variety.
The three colors of Mardi Gras also have specific meaning:
1. Purple: justice
2. Green: faith
3. Gold: power
This year, we will be making a Kings Cake to end Ordinary Time as we move into Lent. What will you be doing?