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.
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.