Being in Germany this week got me thinking about different traditions and celebrations in the lead up to the Christian season of Lent. Fasching (pronounced: fa·shing) or Karneval is a big deal here and actually begins at 11:11am on the 11th November and ends at midnight on Faschingsdienstag (Shrove Tuesday). It was originally a celebration of the end of Winter, a time to enjoy life and let your hair down. In medieval times it was a time to dress up, hide behind a mask and poke fun or taunt your oppressive rulers.
Today it is a festival of music, dance and performance, people dress up in costume, play tricks on each other, hold parades and bomb fires and kiss random strangers. There are even Fasching Clubs that spend the off season making preparations for the festivities which lie ahead. The final week of celebrations usually start on the Thursday before Shrove Tuesday with the Women’s Karneval, where women dress up and will usually prank men by cutting off their ties. Monday (Rosenmontag) is the main day for the parades with Cologne (Köln) being the largest. Events are held right up until midnight on Shrove Tuesday.
Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Tuesday, Faschingsdienstag whatever you might know it as, is a last hooray, a final indulgence in all the things that were traditionally forbidden during Lent, things like music, dancing and sweet treats. This made me wonder why in the face of all the myriad of indulgences Irish Shrove Tuesday traditions revolve solely around the humble pancake? No parades or parties, no dressing up or dancing in the streets, just pancakes. It’s not like we don’t enjoy a good party or that we didn’t have our fair share of oppressors, but perhaps Halloween or Following the Wren answered our need to dress up and mark the season’s passing.
Pancake Tuesday was originally an English tradition rooted in the practicality of needing to deplete stores of eggs, milk, butter and fat for the time of fasting to come. These days pancakes make a more regular appearance at the family breakfast table, with fancy toppings but when I was growing up we got pancakes one time in the year, on Pancake Tuesday. My mum would fry up crepe like pancakes, which we would smother in butter, lemon juice and sugar, then roll and devour with delight. It was and still is the perfect way to celebrate Pancake Tuesday, at least in my opinion. Traditions are all about the way you have always marked an occasion or celebration, but this doesn’t prevent me from appreciating the diversity and enjoy the experience of other traditions alongside my own.