Fat Tuesday, Ash Wednesday: Western Christians prepare for, enter Lent

Couple in Venice dressed up for Carnivale

A couple dressed up for Carnivale, Venice, 2016. Photo by Y Nakanishi

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 25 and WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 26: With Lent quickly approaching and Easter on the horizon, Western Christians enter the season of repentance on Ash Wednesday—after, of course, making any last indulgences the day before, on Fat Tuesday.

MARDI GRAS: FAT TUESDAY, PANCAKES AND PACZKIS

Traditionally an opportunity for Christian households to cleanse their cupboards of butter and eggs in preparation for Lent, Mardi Gras (literally, “Fat Tuesday) has evolved far beyond its simple, pancakes-and-paczkis roots. The food-laden traditions of Shrove Tuesday do still exist—in England, pancake races have been held continuously since the 15th century, and doughnut shops worldwide continue to bake millions of paczkis—but the elaborate festivities have morphed into mega-festivals across the globe. Whether it’s Carnival in Brazil, Carnevale in Italy or Mardi Gras in New Orleans, days-long events finally come to a close on Ash Wednesday, as Christians begin the 40 days of Lent.

Recipes! Shrimp gumbo, jambalaya and King Cake can be on your menu, with help from Food Network and Taste of Home.

CARNIVAL: FROM EPIPHANY TO FAT TUESDAY

Paczkis, common fare on Fat Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Epiphany—or King’s Day, on January 6— signals the official start of Carnival season. Montevideo, Uruguay, is the first city to kick off festivities for Carnival, in a celebration that lasts 40 days. In most cities, events begin one or two weeks prior to Fat Tuesday, with colorful parades, masquerade dress, festive music and, of course, plenty of sweet and fried breads. Whether it’s the Polish paczki, the English pancake or the Swedish semla, the tradition of using sugar, lard, butter and eggs on Fat Tuesday has as many cultural variations as nations that celebrate.

Did you know? In the Belgian city of Binche, the Mardi Gras festival is known as the Carnival of Binche. It was proclaimed one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, in 2003.

In the UK and Ireland, the week prior to Ash Wednesday is known as “Shrovetide,” ending on Shrove Tuesday and always involving pancakes. Shrove Tuesday is derived from the word shrive, which means, “to confess.” The Christian Mardi Gras began in Medieval Europe, although Venice remains one of the most sought-after destinations for the holiday. (CNN has a slideshow of the world’s most dazzling Mardi Gras celebrations.)

Did you know? “Carnival” derives from the Latin carne levare, which means, “to take away meat.”

Across the world, in Rio de Janeiro, Carnival has become such a massive event—so much so, in fact, that the country attracts 70 percent of its tourists during this time! Mardi Gras came to the United States in 1699, when French explorers Pierre and Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne were sent to defend France’s claim on the territory of Louisiane. Today, Mardi Gras reigns strong in New Orleans.

REPENT AND BEGIN LENT ON ASH WEDNESDAY

For Christians, Lent begins on February 26, with Ash Wednesday.

In representation of the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the desert, Christians observe the 40 days of Lent (excluding Sundays) in preparation for Easter. On Ash Wednesday, able adults fast, and all able Christians abstain from meat and practice repentance. Records indicate that from the earliest centuries, the days preceding Jesus Christ’s death were filled with a solemnity of fasting and penitence.The custom of clergy placing ashes upon the foreheads of the faithful is rooted in the practice of doing so as a sign of mourning and repentance to God.

On Ash Wednesday, Christians recall their mortality and express sorrow for sins. Traditionally, palm fronds from the previous year’s Palm Sunday are burned into ashes for Ash Wednesday services, and the ashes are then blessed. The Catholic Church permits ashes on the forehead for anyone who wishes to receive them—not just baptized Catholics. Generally, the practice of ashes is kept by Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists and Anglicans.

 

Fat Tuesday: Christians mark Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras with global traditions

If you know someone from the Western Christian tradition, perhaps at work or in your neighborhood, use this icebreaker: Do you celebrate Fat Tuesday? Does your family have any favorite recipes for this day?

 

Plate of pancakes, stacked with red syrup and cherries on top

The tradition of making pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, to clear cupboards of “indulgent” ingredients like butter, sugar and eggs, is centuries old. Photo by Einladung_Zum_Essen, courtesy of Pixabay

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 13: Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Carnivale, Pancake Day—all describe the massive celebration that takes place one day before the start of the Christian season of Lent, this year celebrated on February 13. Indulge to the hilt and maybe even give your Valentine some chocolates one day early—for the first time since 1945, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day will fall on the same day, this year—on February 14. So empty those cupboards and refrigerators and dine on in sweet paczkis, delicate crepes, spongy pancakes and even a King Cake, before beginning the fast that begins the Western Christian Lenten season.

SHROVE TUESDAY, CARNE LEVARE & PANCAKES GALORE

King Cake with frosting drizzle and purple, yellow and green sugar granules on top

A Mardi Gras King Cake. Photo by Eric Wagner, courtesy of Flickr

For centuries, Christians have gathered their supply of sugar, butter, eggs and other rich foods on Fat Tuesday, cooking up an array of tempting treats and clearing the home of these foods in anticipation of Lenten fasting. In England, pancakes are topped with fruits and creams, cooking herbs and other savory flavors; in Poland and Lithuania, fried donuts and paczkis are more common. Swedes and Finns cook up semla pastries, and in the United States—well, any number of these treats can be seen on Fat Tuesday.

Did you know? In the UK and Ireland, the week prior to Ash Wednesday is known as “Shrovetide,” ending on Shrove Tuesday and always involving pancakes. Shrove Tuesday is derived from the word shrive, which means, “to confess.”

Originally, Fat Tuesday (or, in French, Mardi Gras) was known as “Shrove Tuesday,” which derived from shrive, meaning, “to confess.” Tradition has it that Christians not only clear indulgence from their systems in a physical way on Fat Tuesday, but also clear themselves on a spiritual level, too. Confession has long been common on the day before Ash Wednesday, so that Lent may begin with a “clear plate.”

Bread & faith: Find an array of bread-based recipes, along with stories of the deep connection between baking together and and sharing various faith traditions, in the book Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads.

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.

PANCAKE RACES! In the United Kingdom, pancakes have been a part of Shrove Tuesday for so long that the day has all but been renamed “Pancake Day.” One of the longest-running pancake races has been held annually since 1445, in Olney at Buckinghamshire. One legend goes that a housewife was once so busy making pancakes that she lost track of time, and when she heard the church bells ringing, she ran out of the house still carrying her frying pan.

Gluten-free? Find a roundup of gluten-free pancake recipes, along with making everything from blintzes to Swedish pancakes, at Gluten Free on a Shoestring.

FROM GUMBO AND JAMBALAYA TO SEMLA BUNS: INTERNATIONAL RECIPES

An array of recipes from around the world can bring all of the day’s tastes to your table!

Shrove Tuesday: Bring on the paczkis (and pancakes)! It’s Mardi Gras

Stack of pancakes with syrup, blueberries and cut strawberries

In England and the UK, pancakes are overwhelmingly popular on Fat Tuesday. Photo courtesy of YouTube Easy Dessert Recipes

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 9: Empty those cupboards and refrigerators and indulge in sweet paczkis, delicate crepes, spongy pancakes and even a King Cake—it’s Fat Tuesday, the last day before the start of Western Christian Lent. For centuries, Christians have gathered their supply of sugar, butter, eggs and other rich foods on Fat Tuesday, cooking up an array of tempting treats and clearing the home of these foods in anticipation of Lenten fasting. In England, pancakes are topped with fruits and creams, cooking herbs and other savory flavors; in Poland and Lithuania, fried donuts and paczkis are more common. Swedes and Finns cook up semla pastries, and in the United States—well, any number of these treats can be seen on Fat Tuesday.

Originally, Fat Tuesday (or, in French, Mardi Gras) was known as “Shrove Tuesday,” which derived from shrive, meaning, “to confess.” Tradition has it that Christians not only clear indulgence from their systems in a physical way on Fat Tuesday, but also clear themselves on a spiritual level, too. Confession has long been common on the day before Ash Wednesday, so that Lent may begin with a “clear plate.”

CARNE LEVARE & THE ORIGINS OF FAT TUESDAY

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.

RUN THOSE PANCAKES! In the United Kingdom, pancakes have been a part of Shrove Tuesday for so long that the day has all but been renamed “Pancake Day.” One of the longest-running pancake races has been held annually since 1445, in Olney at Buckinghamshire. One legend goes that a housewife was once so busy making pancakes that she lost track of time, and when she heard the church bells ringing, she ran out of the house still carrying her frying pan. Today in Olney, pancake race participants must carry a frying pan and toss pancakes along the race course. Similar traditions can be spotted across England, and most races are followed by a church service.

Purple feathered mask with one eye hole showing, green, purple and gold beads and necklaces

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

CARNIVAL AND MARDI GRAS 2016

FROM NEW ORLEANS: Nothing stops Mardi Gras, say NOLA residents and partygoers, and it’s a good thing, too—because, for the third year in a row, a cold and wet forecast sets the stage for Mardi Gras activities. Nonetheless, activity schedules and much more can be found at the official New Orleans Mardi Gras website.

A GLOBAL TASTE OF FAT TUESDAY: Staying home on Mardi Gras? Not to worry—an array of recipes from around the world can bring all of the day’s tastes to your table!

Check out celebrity chef recipes, alternative pancake recipes straight from London and a tantalizing combo of crepes and homemade nutella, recipe courtesy of The Guardian. For King Cake, Jambalaya and more Mardi Gras recipes, try something from Food Network or AllRecipes. A sweet semlor bun recipe is in the Irish Examiner.

ZIKA VIRUS IN RIO: Carnivale activities worldwide begin days and even weeks before the day itself, but in Rio this year, experts estimate that thousands may have canceled their plans due to the Zika virus scare. The 2014 World Cup in Brazil saw what is believed to be the first international exposure to the Zika virus, and to date, more than 1 million cases of Zika virus have been reported in Brazil. Researchers are working on a vaccine, though the epidemic will put a deep dent in numbers for both Carnivale 2016 and the upcoming summer Olympic games, which are to be held in Rio.

Shrove Tuesday: It’s Mardi Gras, Carnival and Pancake Day

Figure in elaborate costume of white and gold with gold mask

In Venice, Carnevale means elaborate masks and layered costumes. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 17: Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Carnivale, Pancake Day—all describe the massive celebration that takes place one day before the start of the Christian season of reflection and penitence known as Lent.

Make no mistake—in some countries, this colossal party is the biggest bash of the year. Roots of this festival can be traced to the pagan era, but Christians have been using the day for shriving—confessing—and cleaning out their cupboards of sugar and lard for centuries. In parts of England, traditional pancake races still take place on Shrove Tuesday, and pancakes of all flavors are served across the UK. In Rio de Janiero, Brazil—home of the world’s largest Carnival eventfestivities last for days and boast exquisite costumes, elaborate samba dances, tantalizing foods and seemingly endless parades.

Did you know? Carnival derives from the term carne levare, “to take away meat.” The term is still used in Portuguese-, Spanish- and Italian-speaking countries to refer to the approaching abstinence of Lent.

SHROVE TUESDAY IN THE CHURCH

Some Christian denominations mark Shrove Tuesday on their calendars, including Lutherans, Methodists, Anglicans and Roman Catholics. In preparation for the start of Lent, Christians are encouraged to pray to God for assistance during the 40-day period of fasting and repentance. Some churches with daily liturgies include special Shrove Tuesday prayers.

Much of the action on this holiday unfolds at home. Hundreds of years ago, as housewives cleared their cupboards of “indulgent” foods like sugar, lard and butter before Lent, they baked treats with the rich ingredients. Before the fasting of the Lenten season, housewives prepared the pancakes and other foods that are still consumed on Shrove Tuesday. In Sweden, the semla pastry is prepared; in Lithuania, spurgo doughnuts are consumed; in Estonia, vastlakukkel sweet buns are filled with jam and eaten with whipped cream; in Poland and in Polish communities in the U.S., the paczki is a favorite treat. (Wikipedia has details.)

FAT TUESDAY, CARNIVAL, MARDI GRAS

Literally “fat Tuesday,” or “grease Tuesday,” from the French Mardi Gras, the day preceding Ash Wednesday is the stuff of legends. In Britain, Shrove Tuesday activities date to the 12th Century. One traditional story says that the 11 a.m. ringing of the church bell caught a housewife was in the midst of cooking pancakes. As a result, this woman brought her frying pan—with a pancake still inside—to church. Races that require participants to toss pancakes into the air while running have been popular across the UK ever since. In London, the Rehab Parliamentary Pancake Race gathers teams from the British Houses to raise awareness for health and social care for the disabled and marginalized.

Stack of pancakes from top with two slices of banana

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Australians love pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, as well, with many pancake fundraisers benefiting churches and charities. In Brazil and Italy, the festivities of Carnival(e) draw millions of tourists. (The International Business Times reported, with photos from Brazil. Alternatively, the Guardian captured 2015 media from Venice.) In New Orleans, Louisina, crowds flock to the French Quarter for a boisterous version of Mardi Gras.

PANCAKE RECIPES & MORE

Interested in livening up your go-to version of the pancake?

The Guardian rounded up reader recipes, with these tasty results.

English Chef Thomasina Miers suggests homemade Nutella, with more recipes here.

The Huffington Post serves up 16 pancake recipe ideas.

LIVE FROM BRAZIL …

YouTube launched a channel dedicated to the Carnaval de Salvador, the second-largest Carnival celebration in Brazil. Musical performances, Brazilian dancing and more can be viewed here.