Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Shrove Tuesday: A Time of Tidying

Here we are, at the day before Lent begins.  I remember the 1970's, when people would come to church more than once a week--we might have had a Shrove Tuesday pancake supper.  We will not be doing that at my church today. 

More of us are familiar with Mardi Gras, usually as a drinking holiday.  And some of us might be familiar with Carnival festivities, which might last several weeks. 

Mardi Gras and Carnival, holidays that come to us out of predominantly Catholic countries, certainly have a more festive air than Shrove Tuesday, which comes to us from some of the more dour traditions of England. The word shrove, which is the past tense of the verb to shrive, which means to seek absolution for sins through confession and penance, is far less festive than the Catholic terms for this day.

Many of our Mardi Gras and Shrove Tuesday traditions come out of the need to use up the excess.  In medieval times, most Christians would give up all sorts of luxury items for Lent, luxury items like milk, eggs, and alcohol.  So just before Lent came the using up of the luxury items--because you wouldn't just throw them away.  Hence the special Mardi Gras breads and treats and the drinking.

We are at the juxtaposition of many holidays that involve tidying:  a Candlemas tradition involves sweeping one's house, the Chinese New Year has a time of deep cleaning, and many of the days leading up to Lent involve a straightening.  I don't have time for deep cleaning, but I will be grading rough drafts--a straightening of a different sort.

In the past, I've made special bread; if you have time, this blog post will walk you through the process.  I've made pancakes, but it always makes me somewhat sad to eat them alone.  I will not go out drinking tonight--I have to get up early tomorrow to go to spin class and then to work.

Today is also the day of the New Hampshire primaries--talk about interesting juxtapositions!  Yesterday was the Chinese New Year, which ushered in the year of the Fire Monkey.  The year of the Fire Monkey is often seen as a time of completion, and it has the potential to be a time of prosperity.  But fire years, while giving warmth, can also be times of aggression, restlessness, and impulsive behavior.

And then we move to Ash Wednesday tomorrow.  My poet brain is already whirring.

I will spend some time in contemplation as I move through the day.  I will have a sense of a different calendar that pulses beneath the secular rhythms of our culture.

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