TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 12: Haul out the eggs, sugar and cream, and let yourself indulge—it’s Fat Tuesday, the last 24 hours before the start of Western Christian Lent. Recipes vary by country—the English fry up pancakes, Polish and Lithuanians make donuts and Swedes and Finns cook up semla pastries (shown above)—but all reflect the old Christian tradition of using up the rich foods in one’s home before starting the fasting season of Lent. (Wikipedia has details.)
Originally, Fat Tuesday (or Mardi Gras, in French) was known as “Shrove Tuesday,” which derived from shrive, meaning “to confess.” (Learn more from Fish Eaters, a Catholic site.) Tradition has it that if Christians obtain absolution from their sins by way of Confession before Ash Wednesday, they can better approach the weeks of Lent that lead toward Easter.
FREE FOR YOU in ReadTheSpirit: TODAY, ReadTheSpirit begins a weekly series of inspiring Lenten stories by author Benjamin Pratt. Learn about the global importance of Lent and enjoy Ben’s first story now.
ORIGINS OF CARNIVAL: DID YOU KNOW?
The popular Carnival associated with Mardi Gras, primarily celebrated in Portuguese-, Spanish- and Italian-speaking countries, derives from carne levare, meaning “to take away flesh/meat.” Street processions abound in Brazil and Venice for Carnival, while a customary eating of salted meat takes a literal meaning to the day in Iceland.
PANCAKE RACES? Gorging on paczkis (pronounced pounch-keys) may be customary in the United States, but the custom of eating pancakes in the United Kingdom takes place on such a massive scale that the tradition has all but been renamed “Pancake Day.” The most famous pancake race has been held annually since 1445 in Olney at Buckinghamshire. Legend has it that a housewife was once so busy making pancakes that she lost track of the time until she heard the church bells ringing for service, and she raced out of the house while still carrying her pan with pancakes. Today in Olney, contestants of the pancake race must carry a frying pan and toss pancakes along the race course; all participants are required to wear an apron and scarf. A church service always follows the races. (Access authentic English pancake recipes at This is Gloucestershire.)
Brazil, the global hub of Carnival celebrations, hasn’t altogether canceled its 2013 season—the Huffington Post released a series of photos from this year’s preparations—but at least 20 cities have reported canceling their festivities due to mourning over the recent nightclub fire in Rio Grande do Sul. (The Atlantic has the story.) The fire, which claimed 235 lives, was ignited by a band’s stage show.
NEW ORLEANS MARDI GRAS 2013
Parades and festivities start gearing up the weekend before Fat Tuesday, and Mardi Gras New Orleans offers an in-depth look at the rich history behind this American party (along with parade routes, photos and much more). Fox News recently reported on the flurry of activities already going on in New Orleans. Staying home on Mardi Gras? Check out recipes for everything from jambalaya and crab cakes to king cake at Taste of Home, Southern Living and Martha Stewart. Kids can craft masks with help from Kaboose.
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.