To celebration enthusiasts, Tuesday was known as the great Mardi Gras. The religious origins of the holiday really are a “holy” day, i.e. Shrove Tuesday.
Originally a Catholic holiday, Shrove Tuesday has a certain implication of solemnity. Traditionally, the name “Shrove” comes from the term “shrive,” meaning “to confess.” The day became a preparation event for the season of Lent, a time of reflection and repentance. Traditionally, fasting became a common practice during this season, and Shrove Tuesday was seen as a time to get rid of all those more lavish foods before fasting began. Thus emerged the grand feasting holidays we know as Mardi Gras, or Pancake Day, or Carnevale.
Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday,” is an interesting holiday in the United States. New Orleans is famous for its wild, exuberant celebrations, especially in the vivacious French Quarter. Throughout the rest of the United States, observance of this day of feasting is a mixed bag. Some people go all out, and to some, it is just another Tuesday. As a teenager, Mardi Gras was strictly an excuse to eat overkill amounts of junk food.
Shrove Tuesday is celebrated a little differently in Italy, where the festivities marking the beginning of the Lenten season are called Carnevale (car-NAY-vahl-eh). This celebration is actually a festival, which began on Jan. 31 this year and ended on Feb. 17. Carnevale is a fusion of Venetian history and pre-Lenten partying, where people walk around in extravagant and brightly colored costumes wearing highly intricate masks. For about 17 days, festivities and parties occur all over the city.
But on this Shrove Tuesday, the grand finale is set to finish off the wild festival. Masked balls, beauty pageants and other competitions bring the city to life. The location? Generally various historic landmarks, but most importantly, the city’s iconic St. Mark’s Square. Similar to the bright revelries characteristic of New Orleans, Carnevale is an infamous holiday season to Italians, and specifically Venetians. Despite its wild reputation, the word Carnevale comes from two Latin words meaning “meat” and “farewell,” denoting the holiday’s origins in Catholic Lenten tradition as well.
But to our friends across the pond, this Tuesday was Pancake Day. Being a British YouTuber enthusiast, I follow a lot of bloggers from the UK, and at midnight Tuesday morning, an explosion of tweets hailing pancakes and their fluffy heavenliness emerged. In the United Kingdom, the cultural celebration on the eve of the beginning of Lent is known as Pancake Day. Having been a YouTube “vlog” follower for some time now, Pancake Day has been on my radar, but never occurred to me to be on this feast-ival of days.
Kirsty McHale of the Liverpool Echo remarked Feb. 2 that English Shrove Tuesday celebrations end up gleefully messy.
“Shrove Tuesday is the day pancakes and chocolate spread becomes an acceptable evening meal, and thousands of pancakes end up on ceilings and floors around the country, as we all remember the hard way that we can’t flip them in the pan,” she said.
Although many celebrate the day simply because of the delicious flapjacks, the tradition does stem from religious roots. Deborah Arthurs for Metro News UK highlighted Tuesday seven things Pancake fanatics should remember. In fact, the holiday arose because it precedes the season of Lent, a time of giving up decadent foods and focusing on introspection and prayer. The day before such meditation is thus dedicated to one last hurrah of sugar and carbo-loading. Arthurs explains that ultimately, truly seizing the holiday includes feasting and fasting to appreciate the true heavenliness of a favorite breakfast classic.
Honestly, having a day dedicated to making pancakes and experimenting with different toppings sounds pretty great to me. I’ve never been to New Orleans, but any kind of festival of eating is welcome in my smorgasbord of diet-breaking excuses. And Venice during Carnevale? I can’t comment on that from direct experience (check out my colleague Morgan Barry’s latest post for more on that), but I did happen to be in Venice the week just after the festival ended. Even the masks still left for sale were unlike any decorations I’d ever seen before. The cultural festivities marking Shrove Tuesday are exciting and definitely sound satisfying, but as Arthurs says, it is important to realize the origins and meanings of the holidays that give us such delight.