by Staci Troilo

Lent starts in ten days. We discussed it at Mass this week. Apparently we should already be preparing. I find that funny, because the Season of Lent is a season of preparation. So I’m supposed to be preparing to prepare? I get what they’re saying, but I’m really having a hard time suppressing the sarcastic brat in me. Here’s hoping I can do it for the rest of this post. (Maybe that’s me preparing to be a better person. Or preparing to prepare to be a better person…)

CarnivalSeveral countries celebrate the day before Lent. In Italy, the most well known celebration is the Venetian Carnival. It began to celebrate the victory of the “Serenissima Repubblica” against the Patriarch of Aquileia, Ulrico di Treven in the year 1162. In the honor of this victory, the people started to dance and make reunions in San Marco Square. The festival was outlawed in 1797, but made started to make its reappearance in the nineteenth century for special occasions. In 1979, to embrace Venice’s heritage, the Italian government brought the Carnival back. Masks are worn from the Feast of St. Stephen through Shrove Tuesday, and to highlight the fine craftsmanship of Venetian artists, there is a contest for la maschera più bella (“the most beautiful mask”) which is judged by a panel of international costume and fashion designers. Over three million visitors attend Carnival every year.

In my country, the most well known celebration is called Mardi Gras and the biggest event is held in New Orleans. It’s a full season that starts on Epiphany and culminates on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. It’s marked by parades, costumes, masks, beads, music, and the all important consumption of unhealthy foods and beverages before the sacrifices of Lent begins. I don’t like to call this season “Mardi Gras” because it translates to “Fat Tuesday,” and that term always bothered me. That’s not what the day (or the season) is really about.

The Catholic tradition calls the day before Lent begins Shrove Tuesday. “Shrove” comes from the word “shrive” and means “confess.” The term is sufficiently explained by a sentence in the Anglo-Saxon “Ecclesiastical Institutes” translated from Theodulphus by Abbot Aelfric about A.D. 1000: “In the week immediately before Lent everyone shall go to his confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor shall so shrive him as he then may hear by his deeds what he is to do [in the way of penance].”

Some people call Shrove Tuesday “Pancake Day,” a name that likely came about because of the English custom of making pancakes to use up the eggs and fat which were, at the time, prohibited dietary items during the forty days of Lent. Religious laws have relaxed a little, (and I don’t think people make pancakes with lard anymore), but in many parts of the world, next Tuesday is still Pancake Day.

My family always had a big meal on the day before Lent. And we always had dessert. Because we have modern day conveniences—like refrigerators and freezers—we don’t have to worry quite so much about using up our food before Lent starts. But we still have traditions. My husband’s family always made Fritole before Lent. If you think those fried donuts are good at Chinese buffets, you have to try these! My mother-in-law has fond memories of these from her childhood with her grandparents, and my husband and his siblings have great memories of their grandmother and these from when they were young. I love them so much, I asked for them to be made when my kids had their communions (just so I’d get them twice those years). I’ll share the recipe with you here, and I’ll include it just as it’s written. I hope you try them and like them as much as my family. (By the way, when it says to fry in really hot Crisco, it means to drop by rounded tablespoons into the melted shortening.)

italian fried doughnutI don’t know if you are preparing for Lent, or preparing to prepare, but I hope you take some time in the next ten days to spend some quality time with your family, make some wonderful memories, and think of some ways you can try to affect change—in your life, in the life of a loved one, in your work life, or in your community. We can all do a little more to make our relationships better.

For Writers
Preparing… Preparing to prepare. Preparation is no joke. There is a lot to do before you sit down to write.

  • research
  • character sketches
  • outlines

Even you “pantsers” who don’t like to plan things will find it easier if you know who you’re writing about and and have your preliminary research done in advance. Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” We have enough going against us already, don’t we? Why not invest a little time an effort in the front of our projects so we can start off strong and build momentum rather than run into the dreaded writer’s block part way through?

So anyway, everybody, we’re on our countdown. Lent is just ten days away. We’re all preparing. Do you have a Shrove Tuesday tradition that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear it.


4 Responses

  1. I remember the guilt as I grew older and did not eat fish on the fridays, but most of all I remember the family gatherings after lent, when we all got together and shared special time. Ah the memories Staci thanks for sharing yours. The recipe looks good.

    • Sometimes I think we Catholics have cornered the market on guilt, then I hear my friends from other faiths discuss their trials with it, and I realize, we all have our issues with it. This year, I’m trying to focus less on the guilt aspects and more on the service aspects… on how I can be a better person. But I’m glad this post brought back good memories for you. And if you ever try this recipe, let me know how you like it!

  2. Just as you do , I make a large meal before Ash Wednesday. My family observes Lenten traditions in anticipation of the Easter celebration. Like many of the old traditions, I do a thorough panty and refrigerator cleanout in the weeks before Lent to start the season fresh.

    • I’ve been kind of hungry for pineapple upside down cake. My mother makes the best I’ve ever had. I don’t think I’ll be making the fritole this year, but I might try my mom’s cake recipe. I know it won’t be quite as good as hers, but it might just hit the spot nonetheless.

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