Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Mardi Gras!

Party time! Today is Mardi Gras!

Mardi Gras is French for *fat Tuesday*.  It is the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of a 40 period of fasting and penance known as Lent. Because practitioners were expected to give up animal products are a part of their fasting, all of those foods were to be consumed or thrown out by midnight. One common way to use up everything was in large feasts, especially the making of pancakes.

Another term for today is Shrove Tuesday, from the word shrive, which means confess. This is explained by a sentence in the Anglo-Saxon "Ecclesiastical Institutes" translated from Theodulphus by Abbot Aelfric (q.v.) 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 my hear by his deeds what he is to do [in the way of penance]". I suspect the celebrations leading up to Ash Wednesday may have created much to confess! ;)

It is known as Fasching in Bavaria and Austria, Fosnat in Franconia, Fasnet in Swabia, Fastnacht in Mainz and its environs, and Karneval in Cologne and the Rhineland. The beginning of the pre-Lenten season generally is considered to be Epiphany (January 6), but in Cologne, where the festivities are the most elaborate, the official beginning is marked on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year. Merrymaking may get underway on the Thursday before Lent, but the truly rambunctious revelry associated with Fasching usually reaches its high point during the three days preceding Ash Wednesday, culminating on Shrove Tuesday. The names of these final days also vary regionally. (Encyclopedia Britannica) Historically, during Fasching the lower classes were allowed to wear costumes and masks and to mimic aristocracy and heads of church and state without fear of retribution for mockery. Take a look at any modern Mardi Gras celebration, and you will see plenty of costumes and masks!

From Epiphany (Den trí králu) until Ash Wednesday (Popelecní streda), the people in the Czech Republic celebrate a season of merrymaking and masquerading called masopust. Literally, the word masopust means "good-bye to meat".

This carnival atmosphere is what is known as a valve custom. With the enforcement of restrictions upon eating, drinking and sexuality, "valve customs" developed, occasions "to live it up," to satisfy cravings and thus restore a psychological balance in individuals and populations. Some scholars explain Carnival traditions as remnants of pre-Christian, Teutonic or Celtic rites. Indeed many features can be traced to end-of-the-year festivals which were celebrated during the winter solstice as the birthday of the sun god, honored not only by the Germanic peoples, but also by Egyptians, Syrians, Greek and Romans under differing names. Many customs made their way from the Renaissance and Baroque courts into cities and towns and from there into villages. Other customs evolved in the more recent past.

You can celebrate today easily enough by making, of course, Mardi Gras colored pancakes or waffles. You can find out how to do that here. Other ideas might include:

Have a party! Break out the colorful masks or make your own.

The idea is to feast until you feel like bursting, so pull out all the stops and make everyone's favorite dishes, invite guests to bring a potluck dish, order several pizzas.

Decorate in greens and purples and golds. Mardi Gras beads can be purchased at party shops, so stock up. One thing I saw in New Orleans that I loved was all the beads in the trees!

This is a dress up event, the crazier the better! Take plenty of pictures!

Have fun, but stay safe, and don't post any pictures of the festivities that include people without their permission. You want your guests to feel safe to be a little crazy.

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