Tag Archives: Mardi Gras

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.

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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.



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.


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Carnival, Carnevale: Carne Levamen

One Perfect Valencia

Carnival, or Carnevale in Italian, has been going on for some time now in Venice and in other places where it is widely celebrated. Think South America and New Orleans and the like. Some of the krewes that put on parades this time of year in New Orleans, for instance, have been at it since Christmastime ended. But here we are now at the height of things, for the celebrations of Carnevale are about to reach their climax: Tuesday will bring Mardi Gras, and come Wednesday, it’s a whole different scene as Ash Wednesday brings a cloak of a different sort upon us.

Carnevale is the last great indulgence before Lent’s arrival, enrobed in purple and somberness. There are no set dates for the beginning of the Carnevale season. In Italy, there are places where it begins as soon as Epiphany is done, and others where it begins with the sausages and salame of January’s Feast of Sant’Antonio Abate. Carnevale is, after all, the annual using up of the provisions of winter. Traditionally, the supply of meat would be finished during Carnevale until spring, and this is the origin of the festival’s name, for Carnevale means “good-bye to the flesh” (carne levamen in Latin). Nowadays most observers pass on meat on Fridays for the Lenten season, but it once was a time when no meat at all was eaten, for the full forty days, and so Lent truly was a good-bye to the flesh.

Carnevale has its connections to celebrations of the new year, which, for the early Romans, was the First of March. The Romans were the ones who eventually moved the start of the year to January 1, but old habits die hard, and many new year traditions, including the wearing of masks, carried over across the ages. The old year was dying, the new one being born. Masks provided anonymity in a festival of excess, and costumes and masks are still a big part of Carnevale celebrations, especially in Venice, where they can be incredibly elaborate.

There is also a great tradition of mock battles throughout Italy for Carnevale, with the most famous in the city of Ivrea, where trainloads of blood oranges from Sicily are brought in each year as weaponry. It is said that of all the tons of oranges the people of Ivrea buy each year for Carnevale, not a single one is eaten or squeezed for juice. Instead, they are used as missiles in battles across the city over the course of three days of Carnevale. It is a battle based on historical events––a 12th century revolt against two tyrannical rulers who had imposed taxes on marriage and on the milling of grain. The revolt began on the wedding night of a local miller’s daughter, Violetta, by Violetta herself, and it carried on for three days before freedom was won.

During these three days of Carnevale, the windows of the entire city of Ivrea are boarded up to protect against the onslaught of oranges. The battles are fierce, oranges flying through the air, aimed at anyone who is not wearing a special red cap of neutrality. People emerge with bruises and black eyes, but the fun is undeniable. The city is said to smell wonderful, as the perfume of countless oranges wafts through the air.

If it seems excessive, well… it is. But this is the point of Carnevale. It is no time to be frugal, not with meat, nor oranges, nor celebration, nor emotion.

Today’s chapter of the Convivio Book of Days is influenced heavily by one I wrote on the 15th of February, 2014. Carnevale is, sadly, not a big deal where I live, and I’ve been so wrapped up in the busy-ness of the days that its upcoming culmination almost escaped me entirely. (Lesson learned: Don’t be so busy.) Tonight, we are going to my family’s for Sunday dinner, and Mom has already told me she’s sending us home with pancake batter that she’s made for us. Perfect timing: Pancakes are traditional for that last dinner before Lent’s arrival and folks all over the world eat pancakes for Shrove Tuesday supper. Pancakes for supper? Perhaps it’s a Mardi Gras celebration for the more “home sweet home” set. All I know is our Shrove Tuesday dinner is already in the works, and this makes me happy.

Today’s image also goes back to the 2014 post. The photograph, “One Perfect Valencia,” is provided courtesy of Convivio friend Paula Marie Gourley. She photographed the orange in a California orange grove. There is an ages-old battle amongst orange lovers, too: California oranges tend to be bigger and thicker skinned than those of their Florida brethren, but Florida oranges, subject to our rainier climate while they grow, are definitely juicier. I imagine the oranges of Sicily are similar to California ones, since it too is a drier climate. But I imagine the people of Ivrea would be REALLY impressed by the amazing splatter properties of a Florida orange.


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