Category Archives: Shrove Tuesday

Fat Tuesday

The Carnevale of Venezia, or the Carnival of Venice, began this year on the last Saturday of January and soon, on Tuesday, it will draw to a close. Tuesday brings Shrove Tuesday, or Mardi Gras in French––Fat Tuesday. There are certain cities that we think of as central to Carnival: certainly Venice, Rio de Janeiro, and New Orleans. But Carnival is a celebration that is known far and wide, especially through Europe and Latin America.

My family is not a Carnival people––it’s just not a tradition my grandparents brought with them from their Italian villages. But Carnival is important. It is the last great indulgence before the arrival of Lent, forty days marked by somberness and penitence––and, in times past, a time of strict dietary restrictions. Carnival season, in fact, takes its name from the latin carne levamen–– “Good-bye to the flesh.” Traditionally, the supply of meat would be finished during Carnevale until spring, and so it truly was a goodbye to the flesh, and a farewell to the provisions of winter. The traditional symbol of Carnevale in Italy is a plump man wearing a necklace of sausages about his neck. It is in stark contrast to the traditional symbol of Lent: a gaunt old woman, all skin and bones.

I love the costumes and the masks of a traditional Venetian Carnevale. It is a celebration of excess and the costumes, elaborate as they are, encourage this. Who knows who is behind each of those masks? 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.

In England and in the United States, Shrove Tuesday means one thing: Pancakes for supper. The meal is an easy way of using up all the eggs, milk, and sugar that remained in the larder before the 40 fasting days of Lent commenced. In Germany, the tradition for the Tuesday before Lent calls for doughnuts, and the night there is known as Fasnacht or Faschnacht. The idea is the same: using up all the remaining lard, sugar, and butter before Lent begins. But whether it is pancakes or doughnuts, there is something special about eating breakfast for dinner, or about eating homemade doughnuts after dinner. It’s a little something, nothing dramatic, just something that marks the day, something celebratory, reminding us of the importance of enjoying what we have. Once Ash Wednesday arrives, Lent will, for forty days, remind us of the brevity of things. The reality is we are very fortunate and we should do our best to remember the gifts we’ve been given… like this, another Mardi Gras, another Fasnacht, another Shrove Tuesday. And as they say in New Orleans, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

 

Image: “Festa delle Marie,” by a German photographer who goes by the name fotogoocom, was taken at the Carnevale of Venezia in 2015. Used with gratitude through Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Forty Days, & Your March Book of Days

Tonight we eat pancakes for our supper. It is Shrove Tuesday, and with this dinner we clear out the pantry, for tomorrow, we enter a new month and the lenten season, too: our annual forty days of solemn reflection that set the stage for rebirth and the miracle of spring. Forty days, or Quadragesima in Latin, fortieth, which is why the Italians call this season Quaresima. It sounds lovely, no? Not nearly as spare as the English word lent, pared down to four letters, bare-bones. But whether we say lent or quaresima, it is, traditionally, a period in stark contrast to the excess of carnival, which has been going on for weeks now in festive towns like Venice and New Orleans and ends tonight with Mardi Gras. And once Mardi Gras passes, so lent, quaresima, begins.

It is no secret that here at home, it’s been a rough time for us. We lost my dad earlier this month. But life is all of this, the joy and the sorrow, embracing it all, not turning from the hardest parts. And so we do not turn away and we love, even if it brings hardship. Family was the most important thing to my dad. And my dad, it seems, took care of us to the very end. While the past few months brought many challenges his way, and worry on the part of the rest of us, Dad took care of that worry for us. He checked out on his own terms, at peace, it seems, with all he had to make peace with, and he took those worries we had about him and dispelled them, sent them out to the world, diluting them to nothing. One last great act of love and caring.

Ceremony, celebration, is a curious thing. It appears at times like frivolity, and it certainly can be. But there are deeper roots to these ceremonies we hold, year after year, as our parents and grandparents did, through time immemorial. Roots that grow through the ground, the ground that holds my father and all our ancestors, all who came before us. It is the one commonality we all share. Were it not for death, we would have no pressing reason to celebrate, no reason to make the most of each day. And this is why we say there is a seat for death at the table at all our celebrations. Death is the guest who must be present at every celebration, every ceremony. Without death, the “ceremony of a day” is nothing.

And so we approach these forty days, forty days that begin with ashes and an invitation to be well, to put all our efforts into making a good life for ourselves and for all around us: “Remember man that thou are dust and to dust you shall return.”

And yet there is more than this, too. The dust is what remains and there is something more that is larger than all of us. Here, I know, we run into belief systems and philosophies, but I think we can all agree that something more remains once we are gone: spirit, soul, memories… call it what you will. What you call it does not matter.

Last Friday, after work, I stopped at the rehab center where I would go see Dad most every day for the last few weeks of his life. More than two weeks had passed since I was last there, and it felt important that day to stop and to say thank you to the nurses and assistants who took such good care of him in his last days on this earth. It was, perhaps, another aspect of closure I was seeking. And so I drove up, with a heavy heart, and I entered the building. At the reception desk, where earlier in the month I had been checking in multiple times each day, I explained, as tears welled up in my eyes, what I wished to do. The volunteer there expressed her condolences and she issued me a visitor’s badge. I went up to the second floor, stepped off the elevator, and walked the corridors, past Dad’s first room, past the nurse’s station, past the room Dad moved to halfway through his stay, past the second nurse’s station, and then another loop around again. There were RNs and nursing assistants everywhere, but I didn’t recognize a single soul. Not one of them. Even Dad’s old roommate and his wife: they were gone. “Why do you seek the living amongst the dead?” echoed through my mind, and I began chuckling a bit. There was nothing for me there. I stepped again into the elevator. I descended, and I left the building. Outside, the sun was bright and the air was warm. There was a gardener working in a bed nearby. I looked at him twice, but definitely did not recognize him, either.

 

Here is a link to where you’ll find your Convivio Book of Days Calendar for March. It may not be updated to March’s calendar when I first publish this blog chapter, but if not, check back again in an hour or two, for it will be. This month’s cover star is a type of shaving brush tree that we see round Lake Worth and neighboring towns. The tree loses its leaves each winter, one of our few deciduous trees here in South Florida. Come spring, it blossoms in advance of the year’s new green leaves. The blossoms are amazing bursts of pink energy––the pink shaving brushes that give the tree its common name. Death and rebirth: the story never grows old.

 

Pancakes for Our Supper

The Pancake Bakery

Pancakes for supper? Yes, please. Carnevale is concluding and today it is Mardi Gras. The day is better known in some places as Shrove Tuesday, and tradition would have us eat pancakes for our supper tonight. That alone is cause for celebration. It is a supper designed to use up the last of the eggs, the last of the butter, the last of all that was restricted in earlier days as we enter the somber season of Lent, which begins tomorrow with Ash Wednesday. Lent back then was much more restrained than it is now, where we pass on meat on Fridays. In earlier times, the restraint was a matter of necessity as much as of observance, for by this time of year, the stocks of food from the harvest were usually quite depleted. If folks were to make it through to the first harvests of spring and summer, a little restraint now was an important thing.

But that is tomorrow. Tonight we eat pancakes for supper and we remember the importance of appreciating each and every day.

Image: “The Pancake Bakery” by Peter Aertsen. Oil on Panel, 1560. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam. [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.