Christian: Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras on eve of Lent

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 21: Lent—the traditional season of reflection and self-denial that leads to Easter—begins on Ash Wednesday for 1.5 billion Western Christians. So, the last day before Lent is a big bash in many cultures. For example, Polish-American communities produce tons of literally to-die-for pastries called Pączkis. Other cultural groups have other tasty treats.

Of course, the epicenter of pre-Lenten excess is New Orleans. The official Mardi Gras 2012 website explains that Tuesday, February 21, is the big Mardi Gras bash in the streets of New Orleans—but it’s actually the end of a longer Carnival season in New Orleans. Events have been unfolding all around the city, including some more family friendly events that New Orleans civic leaders are promoting, these days, to counter the city’s sinful reputation.


This week, the Los Angeles Times reports from New Orleans: Mardi Gras Beads Cause Environmental Hangover. Just how many beads fly through the streets at Mardi Gras? Try 25 million pounds! What’s more, the city can’t simply scoop them up and recycle the materials. The LA Times sets the scene this way:

The beads, of course, are central to the ritualized gift exchanges unique to Mardi Gras season, a multi-day series of parties and parades that brings an estimated million revelers to the streets for what is sometimes called “the Greatest Free Show on Earth.” Members of Mardi Gras “krewes,” the private social organizations that stage the parades, spend thousands to purchase the shiny baubles by the gross at local Carnival-themed superstores, then fling them to crowds who beg for them with the exclamation, “Throw me something, mister!”

The LA Times reports that, for 2012, Mardi Gras fans Kirk and Holly Groh are trying to make a dent in the excess of beads that are thrown in celebration—then thrown into landfills the next day. The Grohs and other environmentalists will try various pilot recycling projects, this year. Can they succeed? The Times concludes that many skeptics rate their chance of making a difference as: “futile.”


Western Christians no longer undertake the kind of fasting that Orthodox Christians still maintain during Lent—so the over consumption of rich foods on the Tuesday before Lent doesn’t make as much sense as it once did. But that doesn’t slow the gorging on fried pastries, pancakes and other pre-Lenten delights. In some communities around the world, Shrove Tuesday is known as Pancake Tuesday.

The University of Sheffield in the UK already has held a successful pre-Lenten campaign to set a world’s record for the number of people flipping flapjacks at the same time. The Guinness record for this particular effort had been 405 people flipping simultaneously for 30 seconds. The university managed to get 890 people flipping—to raise funds for an array of local charities, of course—and smashed the Guinness record.

What does “Shrove” mean? Oddly enough, the Wikipedia entry on Shrove Tuesday is packed with information about related customs, but the entry never explains the name of the observance. “Shrove” or “shrive” is an archaic term that refers to what Catholics call the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation—formally confessing sins and seeking forgiveness. Of course, that’s not nearly as fun as loading up on carbs or parading through city streets in costume.

Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email