Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday: Christians prepare for, begin Lenten season

Mardi Gras mask sitting in pile of colorful paper ribbons

Photo by annca, courtesy of Pixabay

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 28 and WEDNESDAY, MARCH 1: Haul out the eggs, sugar and cream, and let yourself indulge—it’s Fat Tuesday! During the last 24 hours before the start of Western Christian Lent, recipes vary by country: English families fry up pancakes, Polish and Lithuanian homes serve donuts and Swedes and Finns cook up semla pastries—but all reflect the old Christian tradition of using up the rich foods in one’s home before starting the fasting season of Lent. Then, following Fat Tuesday, more than a billion Western Christians begin fasting for the start of the season of Lent. From solemn church services to a nationwide movement nicknamed “Ashes to Go,” adherents observe Ash Wednesday in solemnity.

Did you know? Originally, Fat Tuesday (or Mardi Gras, in French) was known as “Shrove Tuesday,” which derived from shrive, meaning “to confess.” 

MARDI GRAS: CARNE LEVARE VS. CARNIVAL

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.

Pile of rounded donuts covered in powdered sugar

A variety of sweet breads, ranging from paczkis to pancakes to pastries, is traditionally baked for Fat Tuesday. Photo by freestocks.org, courtesy of Flickr

PANCAKES & 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.

MARDI GRAS and CARNIVAL 2017: Parades and festivities start gearing up days 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, a countdown and much more). Carnival in Venice—a more formal, period-era celebration than the parties in Rio and New Orleans—is thought to have been started in 1162, and today draws approximately 3 million visitors to Venice annually. (View a slideshow of Venetian festivities, here.) Staying home on Mardi Gras? Check out recipes for everything from jambalaya and crab cakes to king cake at Taste of Home and Southern Living.

ASH WEDNESDAY (& CLEAN MONDAY)

In the Western church, Ash Wednesday is a day of repentance and prayer. In some churches, palm branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday are blessed and burned into ashes, although many churches conducting these services now purchase the ashes from religious-supply companies. During a liturgy marking the day, a church leader swipes the ashes into the shape of a cross on the recipient’s forehead. Rather than wash the ashes, recipients are supposed to let the ashes wear off throughout the remainder of the day as part of their spiritual reflections.

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke detail the story of Jesus spending 40 days fasting in the desert, where he is repeatedly tempted by Satan. Lent similarly marks 40 days—not counting Sundays.

CLEAN MONDAY: Eastern Orthodox Christians will start Great Lent the same week as Western Christians, this year, and in 2017, February 27 is Clean Monday—the start of the fasting period for Eastern Christians that prohibits meat, dairy and various other foods. Clean Monday—a public holiday in Greece—is commemorated with outdoor picnics, kite flying and shared family meals. (Find a recipe for Lagana Bread, a traditional Greek Clean Monday favorite, here.)

10 years: New Orleans and the decade since Hurricane Katrina

New Orleans buildings underwater, view from above

Days after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, much of the city remained submerged underwater. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, AUGUST 23: Ten years ago, in a season of record-breaking storms, dangerous weather over the Bahamas created a tropical cyclone or hurricane. Days later, Katrina headed toward Florida and strengthened immensely, hitting southeast Louisiana on August 29 and destroying coastlines through Texas.

In just a few days, the vast tropical storm had killed more than 1,800 people in seven states, destroyed $108 billion of property and left entire cities displaced. Now, a decade later, photographers are capturing remnants of the storm so unparalleled that its destruction still has left some neighborhoods, roads and community systems devastated in the region. The hurricane exceeded the National Weather Services’ annual budget and permanently retired the meteorological use of the name “Katrina” is still being examined by scientists, journalists, civil engineers and government officials.

vietnamese american catholics worship in New OrleansOne of those research projects was covered in The New York Times on Sunday—a study of the exceptional resilience of the Vietnamese-American community on the eastern edge of New Orleans. In the 2010 ReadTheSpirit American Journey series, Editor David Crumm reported from that same community in New Orleans that was rebuilding from Katrina even at that 5-year anniversary. In the Sunday NYTimes, scholar Mark VanLandingham reported on research into the cultural strengths of this community, which was one of the first of the poorer neighborhoods to rebuild after the disaster.

Man and woman walking through chest-deep water, carrying backpacks

Residents of New Orleans make their way through Hurricane Katrina’s floods. Photo by Chris Graythen, courtesy of Flickr

KATRINA BY THE NUMBERS

The death toll of Katrina was spread across seven U.S. states, but in Louisiana alone 1,577 perished as a result of the hurricane. When the levee system calamitously failed, thousands were left vulnerable, and an estimated 80 percent of New Orleans flooded.

Did you know? Hurricane Katrina formed on August 23 and dissipated on August 31, 2005.

Beyond the $108 billion in property damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, the Gulf Coast’s highway infrastructure and 30 oil platforms were destroyed. (NPR examines further.) Hundreds of thousands were left unemployed, and approximately 1.3 million acres of forest land were ravaged. Extensive beach erosion, the overrun of local marshes and oil spills were just a few of the environmental damages caused by Katrina. (Wikipedia has details.) Upward of 70 countries pledged monetary donations or other assistance after the hurricane, and several charitable organizations—such as the American Red Cross, Feeding America, the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—provided assistance to storm victims.

In photographs: Stairs that lead to nowhere—Photographer Seph Lawless and photographer David G. Spielman are two of the artists capturing the 10-year aftermath of Hurricane Katrina with photos that document the crumbling and rotting homes, restaurants, factories and schools of New Orleans. (View Speilman’s black-and-white photos, courtesy of The Guardian, here.) Lawless noted that the “stairs that lead to nowhere” are among the “saddest” images in his collection, left as the only testimony to many homes that once were. (Weather.com has a slideshow of photos.)

LOUISIANA TODAY

Weather photo of white winds over southern U.S. and ocean

Hurricane Katrina. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Following Hurricane Katrina, the Louisiana Legislature turned over the majority of the Orleans Parish public schools to the state Recovery School District. The result is evident in New Orleans today with multiple governing entities and 92 percent of students in charter schools. During the past decade, public education in New Orleans has seen unprecedented growth in student achievement, increasing enrollment and improving standardized test scores. (Learn more here.)

On Aug. 29 at 7 p.m. in the streets of Old Towne Slidell, in New Orleans, “Plus 10—A Decade of Resiliency” will mark the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and celebrate the strength and spirit of the city’s residents.

STORM PREPARATION:
THEN AND NOW

Since Hurricane Katrina, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) reports that there has been development of a prototype storm surge watch and warning system through collaborative efforts. In addition, NHC forecasts have been extended from three to five days; watches and warnings have extended from 12 hours to 48 and 36 hours. (This article from Forbes reports on what has been learned since Hurricane Katrina.) Experts also are working to inform city leaders of approaching storms in a way that would prevent denial and promote action.