Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we shall fast! Today is “Fat Tuesday” or “Shrove Tuesday,” the last day of Mardi Gras. It is the day before Lent officially begins. Since the Middle Ages people have taken the opportunity to feast before the great fast and in many cases have full-blown parties with parades, masks and balls to celebrate before contemplation sets in.
What are some of the traditions surrounding the day before Ash Wednesday? Where did they come from? How are ELCA congregations celebrating and why?
Here are a few answers that you might be interested in knowing:
When is it? The feast before Ash Wednesday comes exactly 47 days before Easter Sunday; it is a moveable feast that is calculated by cycles of the moon. The date can vary from as early as Feb. 3 to as late as March 9.
What does shrove mean? “Shrove” is based on the past tense of an old English verb “shrive,” which means absolution from sins through confession. Shrove Tuesday gets its name from the custom of Christians to be “shriven” before the start of Lent.
What about Carnivale or the Carnival season? “Carne Vale” means “goodbye to meat” in Latin. The Carnival season occurs immediately before Lent and typically involves a public celebration where people dress up or masquerade during public celebrations.
How does Mardi Gras fit in? “Mardi Gras” is French for “Fat Tuesday.” The Mardi Gras season varies from city to city. In some traditions the season begins at Epiphany and ends at the stroke of midnight before Ash Wednesday. In other places it is a three-day event.
What is Shrovetide? In the United Kingdom the week before Ash Wednesday is known as Shrovetide, which ends on Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day. On Pancake Day races are held in villages and towns across the country. Women over the age of 16 wear a traditional housewife’s costume (with apron and scarves) and race while carrying a pancake on the griddle. Flipping the pancakes is also involved.
How about Fastnacht Day? The word comes from the German words “faste” (meaning “fast”) and “nacht” (meaning “night”). A fastnacht is a deep-fat fried doughnut that is eaten on Fastnacht Day. Originally, fastnachts were made as a means to empty the pantry of fattening ingredients such as sugar, fat and butter. In the United States, this tradition is often practiced in the Pennsylvania Dutch area. In areas of Maryland these treats are called Kinklings and are only sold in bakeries on Fat Tuesday.
Fastelavn? “Fastelavn” means “carnival” in Danish. It is celebrated by eating fastelavnsboller on the Sunday or Monday before Ash Wednesday. Fastelavn is celebrated in Denmark and Norway.
What about Sweden and Finland? In Finland the day is called “Laskiainen” and it is celebrated by eating green pea soup and a sweet bread filled with whipped cream and jam that is called “laskiaispulla.” It is also a day known as the mid-winter sliding festival. In Sweden the day is known as “Fettisdagen” or Fat Tuesday and is celebrated with a pastry called “semla.”
What are some of the traditions of ELCA congregations?
- St. James Lutheran Church, Gettysburg, Pa., holds an annual sale of homemade fastnachts. Last year’s proceeds contributed toward the congregation sending young people to the ELCA Youth Gathering in New Orleans. This year, the volunteer bakers estimate that they will make 15,000 fastnachts, with proceeds benefiting the congregation’s middle and high school youth programs.
- Messiah Lutheran Church, Fairview Park, Ohio, hosts a ShroveFest for the community. The festivities include homemade German dinners, a King Cake walk and tours of the church and culminates with the burning of last year’s palms. The ashes from the palms are used for Ash Wednesday.
- The congregation of Trinity Lutheran Church, Westminster, Md., holds an annual Belgian Waffle and Pancake Supper on Shrove Tuesday. In addition to the waffles and pancakes the menu includes sausage, scrambled eggs, tea and orange juice. This year’s proceeds with be donated to the ELCA Malaria Campaign.