Fat Tuesday / Mardi Gras - What is it?

Fat Tuesday is the colloquial name for Shrove Tuesday, the day before the beginning of Lent. In German it is known as Fetter Dienstag, and in French, Mardi Gras. Whatever it is called, it is most common in predominantly Catholic areas—except the Philippines.

The original purpose of Shrove Tuesday was to prepare spiritually for the advent of Lent. Lent is a period of forty-six days of fasting and contemplation before the arrival of Easter. Modern Christians are familiar with the idea of giving up a particular indulgence for Lent, like coffee, cigarettes, or TV. Originally, believers were expected to give up all rich foods, including dairy, eggs, fat, and meat.

The transition of the spiritual Shrove Tuesday to the more celebratory Fat Tuesday grew out of the fast from rich foods. While the devout prepared their hearts, cooks needed to prepare their pantries—by using up all fresh meat, dairy, fat, and eggs. Pancakes were popular, as they are made with sugar, eggs, and milk; in fact Fat Tuesday is known as Pancake Day in many areas. Fried doughnuts are also a common way to use up lard.

The day altered again. The clearing of pantries took on a festive atmosphere as people celebrated with a feast before the great fast. Indulgence in food grew to indulgence in behavior, and Mardi Gras became a bacchanal celebration, nearly devoid of any spiritual purpose.

Carnival, also known as Carnaval (Spanish/Portuguese) or Carnivale (Italian), is related to Mardi Gras. It is thought to have been taken from the Latin for "meat: remove," and reflects the need to use up all fresh meat before Lent. Carnival is longer than a single day; in some cultures it begins in February, and in others, six days before Lent. In many areas, it has absorbed aspects of the Roman Saturnalia and Bacchanalia festivals, to include parades, street parties, and masquerades. In the United States, Carnival is called Mardi Gras, which explains why Mardi Gras in New Orleans lasts more than a single day. There is nothing biblical about Carnival, and very little remains of any Christian origin.

The Bible neither mentions nor demands the observance of Easter, Lent, or Shrove Tuesday. While there is nothing wrong with using up foodstuffs on Fat Tuesday in preparation for the Lenten fast, the indulgences of Mardi Gras and Carnival are unbiblical. Parades and family dinners are fine. Drunkenness, sexual promiscuity, and debauchery in preparation for a religious holiday are ridiculous.

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