Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Fat Tuesday

Mardi Gras is, as you know, French for Fat Tuesday, which is the vernacular nickname for the day before Lent begins. So named because it was the day to use up all the animal fat in the house before refraining from eating meat and animal products during the Christian period of abstinence, the forty days of Lent.

Carnival, which comes from a Latin phrase meaning "removal of meat," is the three-day period preceding the beginning of Lent, the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday immediately before Ash Wednesday, which is the first day of the Lenten Season. The three days before Ash Wednesday are also known as Shrovetide ("shrove" is an Old English word meaning "to repent"). The Tuesday just before Ash Wednesday is called Shrove Tuesday. The entire three-day period has now come to be known in many areas as Mardi Gras.

Originating in the fourth century of the church, the season of Lent spans 40 weekdays beginning on Ash Wednesday and climaxing during Holy Week with Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday), Good Friday, and concluding Saturday before Easter. Now it is more common for penitent persons to give up behaviors (such as smoking or sex) than to forego eating meat. Nevertheless, in the Christian year, it is a time of introspection and sacrifice and an important season in the church calendar.

An old fashioned tradition where I grew up was to have a Pancake Supper at the church to use up the lard and butter. It never fails that on Fat Tuesday I feel a compelling urge to go to IHOP and eat my fill of pancakes.


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