This coming Tuesday is Fat Tuesday, or “Mardi Gras” in French. Cities all over the world will celebrate with parades, parties, concerts and general merriment. The best known celebrations take place in New Orleans, where various organizations called “krewes” create beautifully ornate floats from which their members fling beads and other swag into crowds that line the parade routes, and in Rio De Janiero, Brazil, where Mardi Gras is called “Carnival” . Carnival in Rio is a raucous nonstop party where dancing the samba is a big part of the festivities.
Carnevale in Venice is an eight day festival when tourists flood the city for an orgy of pageants, commedia dell’arte, concerts, and balls. Masks play a large part in the festival, and the masks of Venice are prized around the world. (europeforvisitors.com)
Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is the day before Ash Wednesday, which begins the 40 days of Lent, the most sacred time of year in the Christian calendar. In some parts of the world it is called Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day, since it is traditional to eat pancakes on this day. According to Wikipedia, pancakes are associated with the day preceding Lent because they were a way to use up rich foodstuffs such as eggs, milk, and sugar, before the fasting season of Lent. The liturgical fasting emphasized eating plainer food: in many cultures this meant no meat, and in some, no food prepared with dairy or eggs. Therefore, rich ingredients were cooked to use them immediately prior to the commencement of: Lent.
Lent is marked by prayer, fasting and abstinence. Abstinence means avoiding of meat or meat products. In the Roman Catholic church, until a few years ago, meat was forbidden to be eaten on all Fridays. Now, meat is only forbidden on Fridays in Lent, with a few exceptions for young children and elderly people. Fasting means the consumption of only one full meal per day. An additional two small meals are allowed. Together these two small meals cannot be greater than a full meal.
On Ash Wednesday, the faithful attend a church service during which ashes are placed on their foreheads. The priest or minister, when placing the ashes in the sign of the cross, says:”Remember man that you are dust and unto dust you shall return”. Traditionally, the ashes for the Ash Wednesday come from burning the palm fronds from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration
The culmination of the 40 days of Lent is Holy Week. Palm Sunday is the first day of Holy Week. Palm Sunday commemorates the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem the Sunday before his death. On Holy Thursday, the remembrance of the Last Supper is observed, when Christ celebrated the first Eucharist. Catholics believe that Christ turned bread and wine into his body and blood, and that priests do the same at each Catholic mass. The next day, Good Friday, commemorates the crucifixion and death of Christ on the cross. The “good” in Good Friday refers to the fact that Christ died for the sins of all mankind, and thus saved mankind from eternal damnation.
Easter Sunday, two days after Good Friday, is the most solemn holy day in the Christian calendar, for it celebrates Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Christians believe that Christ conquered death and by observing the tenets of Christianity they will also achieve spiritual eternal life.