Category Archives: Carnevale

Pancakes Tonight!

It’s a bit sobering to think that Carnevale, at this time last year, was probably the last large gathering of people on a grand scale on this planet since February of 2020. Health concerns keep us keeping our distance. This year’s Carnevale festivities in Italy have been much more subdued… probably just as they were in times of plague in ages past.

Carnevale, or Carnival, began on the 30th of January this year in Venice. In English speaking countries, the season is better known as Shrovetide: the time of merry making before Lent begins. And Shrove Tuesday is today: the very last of it, capping off the celebration. Tomorrow will bring Ash Wednesday and a decidedly more solemn time: Lent, forty days of fasting and penance and reflection. Which is perhaps something we need every now and then. Certainly once a year, it was thought, and why not now, when the larders were getting empty. Back in the days when food was not as plentiful and easily procured as it is now, Lent was not just a season in the church calendar; it was a crucial time of fasting to help get everyone through until fresh food could be gathered again in the spring.

There are many traditions in foodways for Shrove Tuesday, known also as Mardi Gras. I’m not so crazy about the King Cakes that are in bakeries and grocery stores this time of year––they’re a bit too sweet for my tastes, with all that purple and green and yellow sugar. But the Polish bakeries will have pączki today, a rich filled doughnut, and the Swedish bakeries will have cream filled buns called semla. If they’re doing things right they’ll be selling them today but definitely not tomorrow and not again until next Shrovetide. In Germany, it is Fasnacht, and folks will be making doughnuts for the occasion this night (nacht) before the fast.

Seth and I, we’ll be making pancakes for our supper, and that is an old delicious tradition, one designed for times when Lent was much more restrictive than it is now. Nowadays all that the church asks of you is to pass up on meat on Fridays, but in ages past, folks had to give up meat for all forty days, and also eggs and all kinds of things we take for granted now. Making pancakes for supper on Shrove Tuesday was a way to use up all the eggs, all the milk, and all the sugar before the next day’s dawning brought Lent. We eat our pancakes with festivity and celebration. (Pancakes for supper? Of course they’ll be eaten with festivity and celebration!)

In the morning we awake to Ash Wednesday. I think a lot of us will choose to stay home this year, but typically, the churches are open, and if we have it in us, we go, and we approach that altar to have ashes smeared on our foreheads with the spoken reminder: Remember man that thou are dust and to dust you shall return. Something we’ve pondered, in one way or another, most all of this past circle around the sun. We are made of the stuff of this earth and we shall return to it. But the stuff of this earth is made of the stuff of the stars, too, and that is something greater to ponder. If nothing else, these forty days that follow tonight’s pancake supper will hopefully remind us that life is short, and we would do well to live the time we have with compassion and kindness for our fellow human beings (and all sentient beings, as Seth’s mom says), and to love each day, and, as we like to say here, to live the ceremony of each day, too.

Image: “Shrovetide,” a painting by Igor Novikov, 2013. No pancakes or semla or pączki to be found in the picture, but it’s ok; I do love the painting. Used with gratitude through Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons.

MASK UP SALE! We’ve begun a brand new sale at Convivio Bookworks today! Buy any four or more of our beautiful triple layer embroidered face masks and you’ll automatically save 24% plus free shipping! It’s practically like getting one mask free (and all of them shipped to you for free, too). And if you need us to ship to destinations outside the US, email us first and we can make arrangements to ship for just $1 per mask. These triple layer masks are made by an extended family of artisans in Chiapas, Mexico, who truly appreciate every sale. So please throw a little transactional support their way if you can, while helping to keep yourself and those around you safe so we can gather again someday without thinking twice about it. We’re calling this one the Mask Up Sale. Click here to start shopping!

Click on the picture to see a full size version of it! The masks pictured here are the floral ones, but we also have other designs featuring calaveras, Frida Kahlo, Maria Bonita, Our Lady of Guadalupe, sugar skulls, Otomi-inspired flora and fauna, mandalas, and maybe even another one or two that I can’t remember off the top of my head.

 

Tagged

Carnevale, Shrovetide, & Pancakes for Supper

Carnevale has been going on in Venice this year since the 8th of February, and soon we come to its conclusion, along with the conclusion of all the magnificent Carnival celebrations that have been happening in the lands where Carnival is celebrated, for Tuesday next brings Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day. The day that follows will bring Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent.

In Venice and throughout Italy, the traditional symbol for Lent is a gaunt old woman, all skin and bones. She is known as La Vecchia: The Old One. Ah, but La Vecchia won’t show up until next Wednesday once her time of Quaresima begins. For now, it is Carnevale, a time to celebrate to excess. La Vecchia’s counterpart for Carnevale is a plump, jovial fellow wearing a garland of sausages around his neck. We are here to celebrate like there is no tomorrow. Out of that come the costumes and the wigs and the masks. In Venice, these tend to be beautiful and elaborate: exquisite costumes that harken back to the glorious Renaissance and Baroque ages of the city.

Here in the States, when we think of Mardi Gras, we think of New Orleans. But there are other convivial cities where the celebration is grand, too: Mobile and Key West come to mind. We have a burgeoning New Orleans style celebration happening in recent years in nearby Fort Lauderdale, too. But for the most part in this land first settled by English Puritans, we celebrate mainly with pancakes. And while it’s no Carnevale, still, pancakes for supper is not such a bad thing. It’s called Shrovetide in the English tradition––Shrove Tuesday being the British version of Mardi Gras. It’s also known as Pancake Day. We eat pancakes for supper that day because it is a meal that uses up the last of the eggs, milk, and sugar that remained in the larder before the forty fasting days of Lent commenced. Nowadays most of the fasting is done by folks who refrain from eating meat on Fridays. But in earlier times, the fast was more widely observed and much more strict. And so the intention was to refrain from all things of the flesh: meat, eggs, cheese, milk… sex, too, was out.

La Vecchia will be here before you know it, reminding us just how short our time on this earth is. So go ahead: enjoy these days. This is what Carnevale is all about.

 

Tagged ,

Carnevale

This past weekend marked the beginning of the Carnival Season in Venice. Carnevale, as it is called there, is a time of masks and intrigue and high Baroque fashion. This year it is a bit later than usual; Carnevale is a moveable celebration based on the timing of Lent, which is based on the timing of Easter… all of which is based on lunar events, even within our solar-based calendar. And so Lent, which typically begins in February, won’t begin this year until March 6th, making March 5th Shrove Tuesday, or Mardi Gras: the conclusion and height of Carnevale.

Carnevale in Italy has its connections to celebrations of the new year, which, for the early Romans, was the First of March. The costumes and the masks come out of this tradition, for they were part of the Roman New Year celebration. The old year was dying, the new one being born. Out of that chaos came a festival of excess, and masks provided anonymity. The Romans eventually moved the start of the year to January 1, but old habits die hard: The costumes and the masks then and now give us license to be whomever we wish, at least for a little while. And the costumes and masks of Venice are, I think, the most beautiful of all Carnival finery.

It is a time of clearing out the larder, for Lent will bring sacred restrictions on food. Nowadays, of course, the restrictions of Lent are pretty easy: the only hard and fast rule is no meat on Fridays. In times past, though, Lent was indeed a time of serious fasting: no meat, no eggs, no fun, no nothing. The provisions had to be used up before Lent and so that, too, was part of Carnevale’s excess. The Carnival Season became a time of feasting to use up all the sausages, all the eggs, all the things that would be banned for the somber forty days to come. But the fast was as much a common sense strategy as a religious ceremony: by late winter, provisions that were stored up were beginning to dwindle; a time of restriction and fasting helped insure the populace would make it through to spring, when fresh food would once again be available.

The elaborate costumes of a Venetian Carnevale go hand in hand with the traditional symbol of Carnevale in Italy, which is a plump man wearing a necklace of sausages about his neck. The Baroque costumes and the plump man ringed with sausages are both in stark contrast to the traditional symbol of Lent: a gaunt old woman, all skin and bones. She’ll come soon enough. For now, we celebrate. Traditional festive foods for Carnevale vary throughout Italy, but many, especially the sweets, are fried. It is even thought that the ever popular Cannoli, the Italian dessert known around the world, originated as a Carnevale treat from Sicily. A simpler Carnevale recipe to try, and a favorite throughout Italy at this time of year, is Chiacciere. They take their name from the Italian for gossip, or small talk, but we’re talking here not about gossip but about strips of lemon-scented dough, fried crisp and dusted with confectioners’ sugar. You’ll find many recipes online for Chiacciere through a web search. My sister is making some next week; we’ll be enjoying them, and if you are, too, let us know!

 

Image: Venice Carnival 2011, photograph by Petra Abendroth. Used with gratitude through Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons.