Today is Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. “Shrove” comes from the word “shrive,” which referred to the confession of sins that was customary in the European Middle Ages as a preparation for Lent.
Over the centuries, different cultures have developed creative ways of celebrating the Shrove Tuesday–almost all involve festivities related to food and drink. These evolved as a way to use up “luxury” ingredients such as eggs and flour and sweets, things that likely might be given up in Lent.
In places such as Latin America, France, (and in this country, New Orleans) people will celebrate Mardi Gras, or Karnival, with parties and parades, costumes, masks, and beads. In parts of Germany it’s called Fasching and is an opportunity for playing practical jokes and throwing rowdy street parties. In England, Ireland, and Australia, it’s called Pancake Day and there will be pancakes with sweet toppings. In every case, the day represented the last opportunity for merrymaking and indulgence before the solemn season of fasting that begins tomorrow on Ash Wednesday.
From my own background–Polish–it’s Paczki Day, celebrated with jelly-filled donuts (similar to bismarks). When I was a young adult, I thought that our tradition was not nearly as cool as that of other countries–what are donuts compared to wild costume parties and floats? But then I learned about Pancake Day from an English friend and decided paczki were at least more exciting than that!
Does your family or community celebrate Shrove Tuesday with any traditions or festivities?
Or do you prepare for Lent and Ash Wednesday in a quieter, more reflective way? Will your forehead be marked with ashes tomorrow?
Have you chosen any Lenten disciplines this year: fasting from gossip, or putting aside your loose change everyday to send to Haiti relief, or saying the Daily Office, or some other way of observing the traditional pillars of Lent–prayer, fasting, and almsgiving?
How have you prepared your heart for the journey of Lent this year?
Kate Elliott is editor of Gather magazine. Her favorite paczki filling is raspberry. What’s yours?
Photo by Mark Gstohl. Used with permission.
Editor’s note: this blog post was originally published on February 16, 2010.
Looking into the Mirror is a short resource that invites you to use the Lenten season to refocus your faith life and realign your relationship with God. Use it with a small group or individually.