Most of us know it as “Mardi Gras,” but the ancient title of “Shrove Tuesday” still sticks.
Shrove Tuesday (known in some countries as Pancake Tuesday) is a day in February or March preceding Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent), which is celebrated in some countries by consuming pancakes. In others, especially those where it is called Mardi Gras or some translation thereof, this is a carnival day, and also the last day of “fat eating” or “gorging” before the fasting period of Lent. This moveable feast is determined by Easter. The expression “Shrove Tuesday” comes from the word shrive, meaning “absolve“.Shrove Tuesday is observed by many Christians, including Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and Roman Catholics,who “make a special point of self-examination, of considering what wrongs they need to repent, and what amendments of life or areas of spiritual growth they especially need to ask God’s help in dealing with.” Being the last day of the liturgical season historically known as Shrovetide, before the penitential season of Lent, related popular practices, such as indulging in food that one sacrifices for the upcoming forty days, are associated with Shrove Tuesday celebrations, before commencing the fasting and religious obligations associated with Lent. The term Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday”, referring to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, which begins on Ash Wednesday.
The Catholic Encyclopedia has this on “Shrovetide”:
Shrovetide is the English equivalent of what is known in the greater part of Southern Europe as the “Carnival”, a word which, in spite of wild suggestions to the contrary, is undoubtedly to be derived from the “taking away of flesh” (carne levare) which marked the beginning of Lent. TheEnglish term “shrovetide” (from “to shrive”, or hear confessions) is sufficiently explained by asentence in the Anglo-Saxon “Ecclesiastical Institutes” translated from Theodulphus by Abbot Aelfric about A.D. 1000: “In the week immediately before Lent everyone shall go to his confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor shall so shrive him as he then may hear by his deedswhat he is to do [in the way of penance]”. In this name shrovetide the religious idea is uppermost, and the same is true of the German Fastnacht (the eve of the fast). It is intelligible enough that before a long period of deprivations humannature should allow itself some exceptional licence in the way of frolic and good cheer.
So, now you know.
Must go out now and eat pancakes…
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