The Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, the start of lent, has long been called Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras if you speak French) or Pancake Tuesday if you come out of England.
For some reason, growing up Lutheran in the Pacific Northwest, I completely missed the whole thing. When my husband used to work in Wisconsin and Michigan, (before we met), pirogues always showed up at work but there was nothing in my childhood or even through my young adult life that marked the day as being any different from any other. I was in my mid-thirties before I discovered that folks had food traditions around the day before Ash Wednesday - and I learned about them by reading about them. I don’t know where I was to have missed this. Was it just not done in the Pacific Northwest? Left behind with the family furniture when folks were loading up the wagon and heading out cross country? Or maybe it was just my own family where many things, including perhaps some traditions, got lost in the process of a generational pattern of families breaking apart and moving away from each other.
At any rate, I am noticing a number of my friends on Facebook are getting out the griddles and mixing up the pancakes today. Or at least they are talking about their plans in their status messages. Oddly, this year, I find myself with mixed emotions.
On the one hand, I’m a big fan of food rituals, especially when connected with a religious holiday. On the other hand, it seems to me that Fat Tuesday needs giving something up in Lent in order to have meaning, and I’m not giving up any foods this year for Lent. I’m certainly not giving up fats or eggs which is one of the prime reasons we should be hauling out our bowels and flour and frying pans in order to use up what we are supposed to be about to give up.
The church I attend these days has turned the last Sunday in Epiphany into something that looks more like a Mardi Gras party than worship. At least the traditional three hymns, scripture, sermon & the offering kind of worship. The worship committee hordes up their meager funds (and I mean meager, this is a small church) in order to hire a dixieland jazz band. We are given beads in New Orleans colors as we come in the door. There’s a jambalaya competitive cook-off after worship in this Northern California congregation and not a whisper of the Transfiguration of Christ in sight.
I’ve preached on the Transfiguration of Christ which falls on the last Sunday before Lent in all three years of the Lectionary Cycle. It is tough work interpreting it in our 21st century American culture. I suspect the congregation may be wise in choosing to prioritize the party over the mystery. It’s pretty clear that Jesus enjoyed a good party with friends and family. He knew hard times were coming. He knew hard times were already around in that occupied part of the mediterranean and how much people needed to dance and sing just to get through the night. Maybe carnival isn’t such a bad thing even if its not followed by forty days of penitential behaviors.
Lately I find myself wanting to focus more on Easter morning than on Good Friday. I know we get to Easter only through Good Friday, I know that there is much suffering and loss in our lives. I know that what is so important about Easter is believing - knowing - being certain in faith - that God can make all these broken places something life-giving again.
As I wrote this post, I googled for Swedish Fat Tuesday Traditions because Sweden is one of my family's old country history, (Switzerland comes in second). I found a recipe for Semlor. To the best of my knowledge I've never eaten it. Maybe I should start my Lenten season with this:
Maybe if I do something for Fat Tuesday, it will help repair my connections to family long gone. Maybe it will build something new for my family that is here and still to come. Maybe I just want to party with Jesus and the rest of my sisters and brothers in Christ. Maybe I just want to try that creamy almond goodness...
How do you celebrate Fat Tuesday? How does Fat Tuesday connect to your celebration of Lent? Of Easter?
Anitra Kitts cooks, eats, and cleans up in Northern California where she also writes and occasionally serves as pulpit supply.