I guess it is Mardi Gras again. Or Fat Tuesday in the vernacular, or even Shrove Tuesday if we are feeling fancy. Whoop.
I didn’t find out about Fat Tuesday until I was well into my teens, so I suppose it is fair to say that not having grown up with it, I am not predisposed to find anything compelling about this particular tradition. I guess I get it, but I still don’t see the point. People need an anti-Lent before they can enter into the spirit of Lent itself? How is that supposed to work, exactly?
And then last year in Ottawa I was bemused to learn of Pancake Tuesday, which is apparently a widespread phenomenon (I initially took it to be yet another peculiar Canadian custom, or perhaps an obscure Anglican one — this being my first time mixing with either group, I frequently conflate the two just to contain my bafflement.) But no: it is yet another tradition of pre-Lenten belly-filling that I had apparently missed out on up to now.
Here’s my main beef (pun surprisingly unintended): Lent is a wonderful, challenging season of self-examination, of re-commitment to ardent practice of the faith, and repentance for habits that we have allowed to distract us from our baptismal call. Printing new menus for ourselves is so not the most essential part of that project. I might even go so far as to question whether it is essential at all, but that may be just me. But assuming our plates are going to look appreciably bleaker for the next forty non-Sundays, I still don’t think it makes any sense to pile them fuller with anything — pancakes or King Cake — the day before. If you are going to do Lent, then just do it.
I understand the historical origins of most of this: the occasion to clean the pantry of all the richer foods that would go bad if left neglected from Ash Wednesday until Easter. But from my observation I don’t really see that being the driving force for most people anymore; it has become a tradition for the sake of itself. And to me, Fat Tuesday as it is celebrated currently is not all that much different than hiring a stripper or prostitute for the groom-to-be at a bachelor party. We shouldn’t need to deliberately binge in order to meaningfully purge; our lives are glutted enough just as they are, and we all have plenty of room to work on our interior life for many Lents to come. I, for one, don’t think church-basement flapjack feeds or bead-draped debauchery should be required to give maximum contrast to the somber days of penance to follow.