Kage Baker always celebrated Shrove Tuesday. That’s what it was called, in our Roman Catholic childhood: the day before the long Lenten fast begins, the day you go to confession, get shriven – and then swear off sensual pleasures until Easter, so your soul stays clean. And so, by natural progression, it’s also the the day you have a big party and eat goodies you won’t get to eat for another 6 weeks.
This is why they’re going nuts in New Orleans today and tonight (though the majority of the bare-breasted, beer-swilling, bead-lusting crowd don’t remember the cause). It’s why the vestment colours in traditional RC churches change to penitent purple. It’s why generations of Christians ate pancakes on this day – because those succulent cakes of white flour, sugar, milk and eggs are composed entire of mortal sins. Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras – it’s pancakes, all the way down.
Mamma always made pancakes for breakfast on this day. They tasted better, knowing that we wouldn’t see them again for at least 6 weeks. Sometimes she made them for dinner, too; with the addition of meat – which would also be in short supply through Lent – it was a feast. I guarantee we realized the difference between Lent and the rest of the year, though probably not with the pious enthusiasm the nuns hoped for …
When Kage and I were kids, Lent was a serious affair. We went to Mass before school started at least 3 days a week – having fasted since midnight the night before. Mamma met us outside the church in the precious 20 minutes between Mass ending and class starting, some brief breakfast – muffins (butter, but no jam), or plain doughnuts, or grits; hot cocoa or black coffee in a thermos. A few fast gulps and swallows and we were charged for the morning. It always reminded me of the scene in Nicholas Nickleby where the boys make a hasty breakfast before being shipped off to Dotheboys Hall.
Nowadays, no one fasts at all, I think. It’s none of my business anymore, of course – Christianity didn’t take with me, and I long ago ceased identifying myself as one. But I was raised that way, and I do remember clearly the sense of pageantry and importance the old rituals imparted. How special can pancakes taste now, when there is no Lenten fast lurking on the other side of that sweet horizon?
Anyway, Kage and I always ate pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. And then not again until after Easter, just … because. Because it was the way it was done. And Kimberly and I made ’em tonight, too, with the extra indulgence of bacon on the side.
It was fantastic.
Yup. Pancakes every Shrove Tuesday, very unusual for a school day. And they had well
Scrubbed pennies in them, too, which was part of an Irish tradition passed down through my mom’s side of the family. Had to remember to chew mighty carefully. How did we ever live to grow up, with no bike helmets, or seat belts, and without aspirating pennies right and left? Must have been our mother’s prayers!
Oh, my, Kathy – the things we grew up with (or without) that now are considered deadly! Remember that slumber party where we went wandering through your neighborhood? A whole flock of 14-year olds, most in the pajamas, loose and unescorted in the dark! Nowadays we’d all have ended up in someone’s trunk … and fasting from midnight to after 7 o’clock Mass would get our parents hauled up in front of Child Protection. Oddly enough, I never felt especially endangered.
I don’t specifically remember what we did after Mass during Lent to break our fast. I served a lot of 6:00am Masses then. On 1st Fridays though we had coco and cinnamon rolls in the class room after Mass.
Steven – oh, that sounds nice. My school was very small, and had no organization to speak of; there were just the more determined mothers outside with provender for their kids. I was spared the 6 AM Masses – no alter girls when I was young! – but since I was in the choir, the 7 AM was de riguer …
At St Anne’s, the mothers club brought us cinnamon rolls, cold chocolate mild and orange juice after Friday morning Masses! What kind of sugar high did we contend with after that all-night fast? I don’t remember what we did for food the other four days of the week after 7am Mass, because that was a daily Lenten requirement. I love the Shrove Tuesday pancakes, but didn’t grow up with it. Irish friends introduced that lovely light lemon pancake to me at Faire. Some traditions need keeping! But, I no longer forego chocolate for 6 weeks…
When I was in, I think, the 5th grade, I gave up reading fiction for Lent. Only read schoolbooks and encyclopedias. And it was hard, it really was – made me aware of the nature of sacrifice, as I suppose it was meant to; but no one took me very seriously.
I’ll bet your librarian believed you 🙂 That kind of sacrifice would still kill me!
My 5th grade teacher understood – she used to lend me Agatha Christey novels. But none of my classmates thought I was really giving anything up. But I tell you, I nearly went mad!