Christian Mythbusters

Christian Mythbusters

A Faithful Fat Tuesday

February 09, 2021

In this episode of Christian Mythbusters, Father Jared debunks the myths (or, really the misconceptions) about the point of Fat Tuesday / Shrove Tuesday / Mardi Gras, etc.). You can hear Christian Mythbusters in the Grand Haven area on 92.1 WGHN, on Wednesdays at 10:30am and Sundays at 8:50am.

The transcript of the episode is below, or you can listen to the audio at the bottom of the post.

This is Father Jared Cramer from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan, here with today’s edition of Christian Mythbusters, a regular segment I offer to counter some common misconceptions about the Christian faith. 

Well, Lent is just around the corner with Fat Tuesday (or Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras or whatever your culture or tradition calls it) coming to us on February 16 and then the beginning of Lent arriving on Ash Wednesday, February 17.

Given the variety of cultural experiences and approaches to this final day before Lent, I thought today might be a good day to break some of the myths—or really, more accurately, misconceptions people have—about the final day before Lent. Quick answer? It’s not just about parties or pączki—though I do admit to loving a good pączki.

It’s actually pretty interesting how every culture approaches the final days before Lent differently. You can get some of the different approaches just through the names different countries and languages use. 

For some cultures, the celebrations of the Tuesday before Lent stretch even longer than just that one day. In New Orleans, the celebrations begin on Twelfth Night (January 5, the last day before the Epiphany on January 6, the Epiphany being where the church remembers the visit of the magi to the child Jesus). Hence the custom of eating King’s Cake from Epiphany all the through Mardi Gras… Mardi Gras being French for Fat Tuesday) itself on Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. 

Are you keeping up with me?

In German the day is called Fastnachtsdienstag (forgive my German), literally the Tuesday night of fasting. In Pennsylvania Dutch country it is called simply Fastnacht Day and there is a donut called a fastnach that is associated with its observance. 

Though those who love pączki often will call the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday Pączki Day, the traditional Polish name is Fat Tuesday (and no, I’m not even going to attempt to pronounce that in Polish). Both the baking of fastnach and of pączki come from this idea of using up all the fatty delicious things in your pantry before the Lenten fast begins. 

In many Portugese, Spanish, and Italian-speaking countries it is known as Carnevale, from the Latin, carnevale. It means putting away the meat or flesh. This is actually where we get our English word for carnival, even though the point of carnival isn’t a great party but is instead one final night of eating meat before the Lenten fast begins and you put the meat away.  

In the Episcopal Church, to my everlasting dismay, we do not feast on delicious yeasty donuts or enjoy some great meat before going vegetarian. No, we eat pancakes—a food so aptly described once by Mitch Hedberg, who said of doing comedy, “You can’t be like pancakes, all exciting at first but by the end you’re sick of them.” 

Still, cooking pancakes is another way to use up those eggs, all that butter milk, and sugar before the fast of Lent begins. We try to make it a little more fun at my own parish, St. John’s Episcopal, by bringing in some of the Carnivale traditions of our Latinx members along with turning ...