To most of the Catholic world, today is Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday. Each name for the day prior to Ash Wednesday has a different connotation and reason for celebration. Fat Tuesday is celebrated by all Catholics and some Protestants. The name predated the Reformation and recalls the tradition of of eating special rich foods before the fasting season of Lent.
Shrove Tuesday comes from the Old English word Shrive meaning to obtain absolution for ones sins or to repent. It is the preparation that the Church encourages in order to enter into the season of Lent ready for battle against the world, flesh and the devil (Yes, he does exist). It is also appropriate for those individuals, cities and countries countries who are more…well, rowdy…during their Mardi Gras celebration. In New Orleans and Brazil, massive lines for confession after a week of partying is not uncommon.
For the Portuguese who live on the island of Madeira (my peeps), it is traditional to eat malasadas. It is basically the Portuguese version of the doughnut. Krispy Creams and Dunkin Donuts – HAH! – peasant food to the Portuguese. Large batches of these warm succulent yeast balls, deep-fried in oil till they are golden brown, and then coated with sugar (Mmmmmmmm!) were made to use up all of the butter and sugar prior to Lent.
This early 1800s tradition also made its way to Hawai’i (also my peeps), who, in fact, have named Fat Tuesday, Malasada Day. I have extremely fond memories growing up and gorging myself on malasadas. Don’t shake your head in disgust. This was an act of charity. Someone must be pressed into service to assist in using up all the butter and sugar from the plantations prior to Lent. I was just assisting in our Lenten preparation. Hey! Don’t hate the player, hate the game.
Being that my wife is Croatian and Welsh, I need to address the traditions handed on to her through the Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Today, is also known as is known as Fastnact Day. The Fastnacht is a fried potato dough that is served with dark corn syrup. Wikipedia, I cannot believe I am using it, shares that in
John Updike‘s novel Rabbit, Run, the main character remembers a Fosnacht Day tradition in which the last person to rise from the table would be teased by the other family members and called a Fosnacht.
Even prior to the reform of the Second Vatican Council, there was an on-going liturgical reform at the turn of the century concerning Lenten observance. For Latin Rite Catholics, the pre-Lenten preparation included the removal of all dairy and rich ingredients such as eggs, milk, and sugar, before the fasting season of the 40 days of Lent. The liturgical fasting emphasized eating plainer food and refraining from food that would give pleasure: In many cultures, this means no meat, dairy, or eggs.
Additionally, one might even understanding the nastier and more pagan side of Mardi Gras with the tradition of rampant acts of carnal knowledge. Why? Also in the Latin Rite for a number of centuries, the Lenten fast included marital relations.
So there you have it. Three key traits of this day:
- Eating something fried and lots of it (preferably malasadas);
- Going to confession; and
- Preparing to begin your Lenten observance.
Have a great day and use today as a call to arms. Tomorrow, we go to battle!