SHROVE TUESDAY. The day immediately preceding Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent in the Christian churches of the West, is known in English as Shrove Tuesday. It occurs between 2 February and 9 March, depending on the date of Easter. The day takes its name from "shriving"—the pre-Lenten confession and absolution of the faithful as a preparation for Lent that was common in the European Middle Ages. Feasting on foods initially prohibited during Lent, such as meat, eggs, and milk products, was integral to Shrove Tuesday observance. The German term Fastnacht and the Dutch Vastenavond (eve of the fast) refer to the Lenten fast about to begin, while the French mardi gras, the Italian martedì grasso, and the Portuguese terça-feira gorda, all meaning "Fat Tuesday," refer to the feasting on foods rich in fat prior to the austerity of Lent. The Spanish term martes de carnaval (Carnival Tuesday) possibly reflects the formerly rigorous Lenten abstinence from meat commencing on Ash Wednesday and lasting through the forty days of Lent. The word "carnival" is thought to derive from Medieval Latin carnem levare, which means 'to take away or remove meat'.
The historical origin of carnival celebrations is obscure. The word "Lent" derived from Anglo-Saxon lencten, denoting the spring season. It may be, therefore, that carnival had its roots in an ancient spring festival or pagan agricultural rite marking the transition between winter and summer. Aspects of such ancient festivals are thought to be reflected in modern carnival celebrations connecting the change in nature with social and biological renewal. Thus, temporary social transformation, masking, processions, erotic dances, eating, and drinking still characterize carnival celebrations in much of Europe. The ludic element—the public, communal revelry—remains in the fore in carnival celebrations in the United States, especially in the New Orleans Mardi Gras, and in Brazil in the famous Rio de Janeiro Carnival.
In Britain this three-day period of ludic license was called Shrovetide. Various sports were common, especially games of football. One form of cruel sport prevalent at Shrovetide was pelting cocks and wagering, and this was still practiced in areas of English settlement in Ireland in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
Shrovetide was also a period of dietary license, and foods forbidden in Lent were consumed in abundance. Eggs and milk were at one time forbidden in Lent and therefore any supplies had to be used up before Ash Wednesday. On Shrove Monday, in parts of England, meat and eggs were eaten, or gifts of pancakes, flour, eggs, or money to provide Shrove Tuesday fare were collected by children or adults, who often recited a "shroving" verse. Refusal to contribute could result in shard-or stone-throwing, or loud knocking with clubs on doors.
Shrove Tuesday was also known as "Pancake Day" in England. After the Reformation, the Shriving Bell, which had hitherto called parishioners to be shriven, signaled the commencement of revelry and pancake-making. In parts of Wales children formerly collected pancake ingredients, while in the Isle of Man, pancake-making has apparently replaced the older custom of serving oatmeal and gravy for midday dinner and meat and pancakes in the evening.
In Scotland, beef was eaten on Shrove Tuesday (also called "Fastern's E'en") to ensure household prosperity. Oatmeal bannocks enriched with eggs and milk were baked, and, together with the beef broth, were used in marriage divination by the inclusion of a ring to betoken marriage, or other items to indicate the rank or occupation of the future marriage partner. The identity of the beloved might be revealed in dreams induced by placing a bannock under the pillow.
In Ireland, Shrove Tuesday (i.e., pre-Lenten) weddings were formerly popular, a custom seemingly connected to the canonical prohibition on the solemn celebration of the sacrament of matrimony during Lent, and pranks might be played on those still unwed at that time. Shrove Tuesday was especially a household festival, when "nobody should be without meat" (Danaher, p. 42). Pancakes—often including a ring to signify early marriage—were eaten, and pancake-tossing as a form of marriage divination was still practiced in the nineteenth century in areas of strong English settlement in Ireland from late medieval times.
Relaxation of the austere Lenten regulations meant that it was unnecessary to use up supplies of milk, eggs, and butter on the eve of Lent. Yet pancakes retain their festive connection to Shrove Tuesday. Homemade or commercially produced pancakes remain popular on Shrove or "Pancake" Tuesday in Great Britain. The traditional pancake greaze at Westminster School in London still takes place on Shrove Tuesday: the cook tries to toss a pancake over the pancake bar, and the boy who succeeds in getting the most cake in the ensuing "greaze" or scrimmage is declared the winner.
In Ireland also, pancakes sprinkled with castor sugar and served with a slice of lemon are much enjoyed as a Shrove Tuesday treat and are also a treat, though increasingly with multicultural dimensions, in British and Irish communities in North America, Australia, and New Zealand.
In many parts of Europe, a variety of pastries rich in milk, butter, and eggs and cooked in hot fat are eaten during carnival celebrations. In Slovenian and Croatian Istria, for example, they are termed fritoli and kroötule, while in Sardinia, these doughnut-like pastries are called zeppole. They are similar in texture to the small rectangular pastry called Funkenküchle, popular during carnival festivities in western Austria, parts of South Tyrol, several areas in Switzerland, and certain regions of southern and western Germany. This latter pastry is made of flour, salt, sugar, and cream, cooked in hot fat, and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. It is eaten around a large fire lit on the first Sunday of Lent (alte Fastnacht, old eve of fast) since the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1582. Fastnachtkuchen are still popular among the Pennsylvania Dutch. These were originally rectangular or diamond-shaped, but today many are made round like doughnuts.
See also Fasting and Abstinence: Christianity ; Feasts, Festivals, and Fasts ; Holidays ; Religion and Food .
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As a point of closure for Christmas and Twelfth Night abundance, and a ritual sending off of the old year, Carnival evolved into a late-winter feast day of special importance to the Roman Catholic world.
The underlying theme to Mardi Gras or Carnival is that the days immediately preceding Lent were traditionally set aside for conspicuous feasting. In a medieval context, conspicuous consumption was a show of wealth, since it signaled that the lean days of winter to come were not an inconvenience imposed by financial or by religious considerations.
Since animal flesh was forbidden during the strict fast days of Lent, Shrovetide also became a period when weddings were once popular. This interesting fact is substantiated by medieval wedding records and makes economic sense, if we consider that June (a popular wedding month today) fell in the middle of harvest or planting according to the old calendar. This calendrical sensitivity placed the birth of the child in November, when there was nothing left to do in the fields. Thus Carnival also had an important influence on very basic human lifecycles far and beyond the actual month of celebration. It was also a time of general revelry in village and city alike, with processions of elaborately costumed and masked figures, dancers, and noise makers. It was in essence, a "feast of fools," a time when the usual rules of everyday behavior could be relaxed, even to the extent that such tabooed behavior as cross-dressing could make its appearance in parades with general approval.
European scholarship has meticulously analyzed the masking and de-masking of participants in the traditional Mardi Gras Carnival. On the one side there is a definite affinity to masks representing demons and animals, totemism disguising the living from the spirits of the dead, who were thought to be abroad on this eve of Lenten austerities. On the other hand, the serving of nourishing, satisfying fat foods at Shrovetide expresses the basic idea in European folk culture that one should, in Harvey Cox's words in The Feast of Fools, indulge in conscious excess. In some European regions it was customary to eat seven or even nine different kinds of food on Shrove Tuesday. These included butter and milk, roast pork, fish, peas, and millet. Feasting was sometimes interrupted by "wise" individuals, as evidence of aiding fertility. Fish were folkloric prognosticators of wealth to come—so many scales or eggs, so much the profit. The same benefit was claimed for millet—the more tiny millet grains eaten on Shrove Tuesday, the more coins one could hope for in the future.
The pre-Lenten feasting was thought to betoken an abundant harvest in the coming summer. Because Shrovetide cakes were products of a church festival, they acquired virtues beyond the nutritional. Crumbs were fed to the chicken on Shrove Tuesday so that they would produce more eggs and be protected from predators. Leftovers were also scattered for the angels, foxes, hawks, and martens, undoubtedly with mixed messages to the recipients to ward off danger. Even the Shrovetide lard was used in folk medicine as a wound salve, and ploughshares and wagons were symbolically greased with it before they were first used in the spring farm work.
However, one of the greatest legacies of Shrove Tuesday is the urban carnival which took place in large cities like Rome, Paris, Cologne, Munich, and Basel. They assumed the form of huge processions, with rites of crowning a prince and princess (or king and queen). Similar feast day parades are found throughout the Americas, but especially in Mexico and South America. The most famous of these is the great Carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, an event for which the city prepares throughout the entire year. Much older Carnival traditions can be found in the mountain villages of the Black Forest and in the Austrian Tyrol, where carvers of wooden masks are still working a traditional art form that predates Christianity.
At the time of the Reformation, Protestant countries for the most part gave up traditional Carnival rites connected with the official ecclesiastical celebration. Mumming and masking were in particular dropped, or shifted to Christmas, New Year's Day, and Twelfth Night (Epiphany). This residual mumming was once popular in colonial North America, and survives today as the New Year's Day Mummers Parade in Philadelphia.
As the last day before Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday, Shrove Tuesday ended the traditional period set aside for celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation and receiving canonical absolution in preparation for the great 40-day fast. The adjective shrove is derived from the Old English verb "to write" or to shrive (related to the German schreiben or the Dutch schrijven ) and denotes the medieval English practice of giving, "writing down," or designating penance. The penance having been prescribed, the penitent was considered shriven, a practice referred to in Abbot Aelfric's translation of Theodolphus' Ecclesiastical Institutes c. 1000 a.d.
The term Shrove tide is the old English equivalent of Carnival referring to the final weeks before Lent. Rooted in the Latin phrase carnem levare —to withdraw or take away meat—households used this time to prepare rich pastries containing eggs, milk, and sugar, then, frying them in butter or fat and in this manner removing from the home foods forbidden during Lent. Herein lies the origin of "Fat Tuesday" or the respective French Mardi Gras. Throughout these days the English consume pancakes, Austrians and Germans various forms of fastnacht cakes, and central Italians frappe. Polish Americans share jelly doughnuts, called pączki, or light-pastry "angel wings," called chruściki. Local supermarkets in the Detroit, Michigan, area distribute specialty yeast-raised doughnuts from ethnic bakeries in Hamtramck, a town which holds an annual Pączki Day Parade. These dessert delicacies are traditionally made of foods which needed to be used up before the next seven weeks of Lenten abstinence.
Present day Carnival or Mardi Gras celebrations are held across the world, the most famous being in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Venice, Italy, and Rio de Janiero, Brazil. In the United States, the streets of Old New Orleans, particularly Bourbon Street, celebrate a parade organized by social clubs called Krewes. The Krewes at one time were instruments through which the daughters of New Orleans citizens were introduced to society. A unique Krewe begun among the poorer blacks during the days of segregation is the Krewe of Zulu, which is famous for tossing almonds or gilded coconuts from their floats. Other Krewes throw plastic beads, play jazz music, host dance receptions, with the characteristic "King Cake" tradition, where the person who discovers a small baby-like figurine in their cake sponsors next year's party.
The "city of canals built on the sea," Venice, annually hosts a captivating masquerade parade, where costumed residents stroll the enchanting streets and bridges, the final destination being a civic gala held on the Piazza in front of St. Mark's Basilica. Wearing of masks and costumes is common to many cultures during the early spring and autumn (Halloween in North America). It is a traditional manner of ritually "protecting" oneself from cosmic crisis or of "hiding" from evil spirits, which were once believed to emerge during the tenuous passage from the familiar "old" to the unknown "new" (New Year's Eve costume balls) or seasonal transitions from the dark, late winter to the ever increasing warmth and light of spring. The Venetian Carnival is characterized by a spectacular display of colorful costumes. Many people dress in elaborate period gowns from the 18th century. Others masquerade as characters of the Venetian theater, the commedia dell'arte of Goldoni et al., still others as forms of nature or cosmic forces. A symbol of death frequently appears in the form of a mimed funeral reminding the frolickers that the sobering days of Lent are near. Each night during the final days before Ash Wednesday celebrations culminate as choral renditions, music, and dancing fill St. Mark's Square, turning the city into a great masked ball.
At times, the carnival season is an occasion for excessive behavior as recently noted in Rio de Janiero. Various forms of erotic behavior in the Brasilian capital has warranted pastoral letters from the local conference of bishops. Across the centuries civil and church authorities have responded to various abuses surfacing during these late winter days. In 1466, the Venetian-born Pope Paul II organized alternative civic pageants and horse races reminiscent of the splendor of the chariots of ancient Rome. These festivities gave the name to the famous Via Del Corso ("The Street of the Races"), the former Via Lata (Broad Street), connecting the Piazza Venezia with Piazza Del Popolo. Municipal authorities in Vienna (1654) issued a first-annual edict threatening with fines and possible arrest anyone who participated in indecent behavior or carried dangerous weapons. In an effort to dissuade participation in potentially immoral activity, Pope Benedict XIV in 1747, issued a special constitution, Super Bachanalibus, granting a plenary indulgence to all who took part in Eucharistic adoration during the days of Carnival.
Byzantine Churches call the two weeks prior to Lent, respectively, meatfare and cheesefare week. The faithful "bid farewell" by consuming it to the end of the first or meatfare week. Dairy products, on the other hand, are eaten until the end of the second or cheesefare week. In the capital of Ukraine, Kiev, the famous Pecherska Lavra monastery holds a ceremony of mutual forgiveness, every Cheesefare Sunday. Mirroring the penitential practices of Shrovetide, both the faithful and monks prepare for the 40-day journey to Easter by begging each other for forgiveness. Having reconciled differences, they embrace each other with the kiss of peace and sing the Resurrection verse: "Today, Christ, our Pasch, is revealed, a sacred Pasch, a new holy, and mystical Pascha, sanctifying all believers …. Let us embrace one another injoy and say 'Bretheren and enemies too: we forgive everything on the Resurrection day!"'
Alleluia Tuesday is another name given to this day, as the Roman Catholic Church symbolically "buries" the Resurrection outcry, chanting it the for the last time before Easter. Responsorial verses are replaced with a sung alleluia and the mass of the day frequently ends with the solemn Easter dismissal. Understanding the alleluia as a Resurrection chant, and as such, inappropriate to the penitential nature of Lent, may be traced to sixth-century Spain as well as Pope Gregory the Great. Tenth-century pontificals attest to this practice deeming it a "celestial hymn." Two centuries later at Rome, the presider himself breaks the somber silence of forty days by intoning the first alleluia at the Easter Vigil.
Bibliography: j. jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite, (Westminster, Maryland: Christian Classics Inc., 1986). j. katrij, A Byzantine Liturgical Year, (Detroit, Michigan: Basilian Fathers Publication, 1983). h. thurston, Lent and Holy Week, (London 1904).
[c. m. krysa]