SHROVE TUESDAY. The day immediately preceding Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent in the Christian churches of the West, is known in English as Shrove Tuesday. It occurs between 2 February and 9 March, depending on the date of Easter. The day takes its name from "shriving"he pre-Lenten confession and absolution of the faithful as a preparation for Lent that was common in the European Middle Ages. Feasting on foods initially prohibited during Lent, such as meat, eggs, and milk products, was integral to Shrove Tuesday observance. The German term Fastnacht and the Dutch Vastenavond (eve of the fast) refer to the Lenten fast about to begin, while the French mardi gras, the Italian martedì grasso, and the Portuguese terça-feira gorda, all meaning "Fat Tuesday," refer to the feasting on foods rich in fat prior to the austerity of Lent. The Spanish term martes de carnaval (Carnival Tuesday) possibly reflects the formerly rigorous Lenten abstinence from meat commencing on Ash Wednesday and lasting through the forty days of Lent. The word "carnival" is thought to derive from Medieval Latin carnem levare, which means 'to take away or remove meat'.
The historical origin of carnival celebrations is obscure. The word "Lent" derived from Anglo-Saxon lencten, denoting the spring season. It may be, therefore, that carnival had its roots in an ancient spring festival or pagan agricultural rite marking the transition between winter and summer. Aspects of such ancient festivals are thought to be reflected in modern carnival celebrations connecting the change in nature with social and biological renewal. Thus, temporary social transformation, masking, processions, erotic dances, eating, and drinking still characterize carnival celebrations in much of Europe. The ludic elementhe public, communal revelryemains in the fore in carnival celebrations in the United States, especially in the New Orleans Mardi Gras, and in Brazil in the famous Rio de Janeiro Carnival.
In Britain this three-day period of ludic license was called Shrovetide. Various sports were common, especially games of football. One form of cruel sport prevalent at Shrovetide was pelting cocks and wagering, and this was still practiced in areas of English settlement in Ireland in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
Shrovetide was also a period of dietary license, and foods forbidden in Lent were consumed in abundance. Eggs and milk were at one time forbidden in Lent and therefore any supplies had to be used up before Ash Wednesday. On Shrove Monday, in parts of England, meat and eggs were eaten, or gifts of pancakes, flour, eggs, or money to provide Shrove Tuesday fare were collected by children or adults, who often recited a "shroving" verse. Refusal to contribute could result in shard-or stone-throwing, or loud knocking with clubs on doors.
Shrove Tuesday was also known as "Pancake Day" in England. After the Reformation, the Shriving Bell, which had hitherto called parishioners to be shriven, signaled the
In Scotland, beef was eaten on Shrove Tuesday (also called "Fastern's E'en") to ensure household prosperity. Oatmeal bannocks enriched with eggs and milk were baked, and, together with the beef broth, were used in marriage divination by the inclusion of a ring to betoken marriage, or other items to indicate the rank or occupation of the future marriage partner. The identity of the beloved might be revealed in dreams induced by placing a bannock under the pillow.
In Ireland, Shrove Tuesday (i.e., pre-Lenten) weddings were formerly popular, a custom seemingly connected to the canonical prohibition on the solemn celebration of the sacrament of matrimony during Lent, and pranks might be played on those still unwed at that time. Shrove Tuesday was especially a household festival, when "nobody should be without meat" (Danaher, p. 42). Pancakesften including a ring to signify early marriageere eaten, and pancake-tossing as a form of marriage divination was still practiced in the nineteenth century in areas of strong English settlement in Ireland from late medieval times.
Relaxation of the austere Lenten regulations meant that it was unnecessary to use up supplies of milk, eggs, and butter on the eve of Lent. Yet pancakes retain their festive connection to Shrove Tuesday. Homemade or commercially produced pancakes remain popular on Shrove or "Pancake" Tuesday in Great Britain. The traditional pancake greaze at Westminster School in London still takes place on Shrove Tuesday: the cook tries to toss a pancake over the pancake bar, and the boy who succeeds in getting the most cake in the ensuing "greaze" or scrimmage is declared the winner.
In Ireland also, pancakes sprinkled with castor sugar and served with a slice of lemon are much enjoyed as a Shrove Tuesday treat and are also a treat, though increasingly with multicultural dimensions, in British and Irish communities in North America, Australia, and New Zealand.
In many parts of Europe, a variety of pastries rich in milk, butter, and eggs and cooked in hot fat are eaten during carnival celebrations. In Slovenian and Croatian Istria, for example, they are termed fritoli and kroötule, while in Sardinia, these doughnut-like pastries are called zeppole. They are similar in texture to the small rectangular pastry called Funkenküchle, popular during carnival festivities in western Austria, parts of South Tyrol, several areas in Switzerland, and certain regions of southern and western Germany. This latter pastry is made of flour, salt, sugar, and cream, cooked in hot fat, and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. It is eaten around a large fire lit on the first Sunday of Lent (alte Fastnacht, old eve of fast) since the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1582. Fastnachtkuchen are still popular among the Pennsylvania Dutch. These were originally rectangular or diamond-shaped, but today many are made round like doughnuts.
See also Fasting and Abstinence: Christianity; Feasts, Festivals, and Fasts; Holidays; Religion and Food.
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