The Fat of Fat Tuesday

Posted: March 8, 2011 in Uncategorized

As we all know, the day before Wednesday is Tuesday. And the day before Ash Wednesday is Shrove Tuesday, or from the French, Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday. In our culture people get fat on this day in lots of ways.

I guess you could also call it Excess Tuesday. Or Overdoing it Tuesday. Or (Thank you Sigmund) Id Tuesday. If the Id, our primal instinctual self, is about to be repressed for the Lenten fast, then we ought to let it out to play in the yard before it has to come inside and do homework.

When the children of Israel made their mad dash out of Egypt under the cover of night they only grabbed what was unleavened, the bread and ingredients that lacked the long-working yeast. They didn’t cut carbs or fat, but yeast. So today, as the observant Jewish family prepares to keep Passover, they clean out the house of yeast. By the time Passover begins the yeast is history. That involves, in many cases, not disposing of yeast-laden food stuff but rather consuming it.  There is some feasting that goes on before the day comes, a feasting meant to eliminate the presence of yeast.

In a not-so-mysterious historical leap, Christians, as they prepared to enter the 40 day Lenten fast on the way to Holy Week, started a similar practice. On the day before Ash Wednesday they cleaned out the cabinets and fridge, took the odds and ends and when possible consumed them. Often this meant stirring them into a batter and baking it. Pancakes were easy enough so they became the traditional Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, batter of choice. You can fry up lots of odds and ends in a pancake and it normally works out. Normally.

This early religious practice made its way into the culture when Christendom was still Christendom, and Lent still meant something and Ash Wednesday still meant something. The Tuesday before Ash Wednesday became the day of cleaning out the leftovers. But then, especially as the culture became more and more secular, Shrove Tuesday was joined to other celebrations of excess, most of which have little to do with the Jewish or Christian practices.

What to do. I suppose we need to keep the Fat in Fat Tuesday. There are the non-Christian carnivals of excess on this day, and we will leave their explanation to the anthropologists. But for Christians it remains a good time to clean out the cupboard as we prepare to spiritually clean ourselves  out in Lent. I just need to pour some of that old stuff into the batter and cook it up and consume it. I need to clean out to make room for what is yet to be revealed.

So have a pancake. Or two. Empty the house of yeast because we’re going to have to make a quick exit into wilderness. Travel light. Just take what you can carry. Enjoy the cavernous spaces of your empty fridge. And then tomorrow, as the remnant of the faithful who still think of such things come forward, receive a smudge on their foreheads and listen to the words, “From dust you have come and to dust you shall return,” it will all make sense. For a few.

Please pass the syrup.

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