Goodbye, Meat! See you on Easter! For those of you who were impressed into taking Latin in high school, you will probably remember that the Latin for “Goodbye, Meat” is “Carne vale.” It’s a tearful goodbye, if you are a faithful, practicing Roman Catholic, since Lent begins the fasting season, or the time when meat and fats go away – it will be a time to do without, as Christ sacrificed in so many ways during his passion and crucifixion – but that’s tomorrow.
So, over the centuries, saying farewell to meat went in most of the world’s mind from a ritual, to going on fun rides in the summer when the carnival came to town. Of course, as is human nature, when we are on the edge of having to do without, even intentionally, there is always an excuse for a great party! In New Orleans, the excess is pretty much year round, but especially so in about two weeks before the start of Lent – that is the official “Carnival” season, where parties, and parades and debutante balls and other fairly unusual happenings occur.
So, how did it all evolve? Well again, human nature is such that, if all I get to eat for the next six weeks are brussels sprouts, then I’m jolly well having steaks and ice cream until the last minute! This last day of Carnival, we all know is Mardi Gras. If you are French at all, you know it means “Fat Tuesday,” where it is expected that folks would scour their homes and remove all meats and fats from the larder and pantry, and quickly use it up so as not to bring a temptation during lent. It was “Fat” Tuesday, not because we expected each other to put on a few pounds, but it became our main focus to cook up anything that might use fats in the recipe. That started the whole tradition of eating pancakes, which can always use up a lot of fat. That tradition became widely accepted by especially the Protestant churches, to have pancake suppers, instead of participating in the debauchery of the last day before fasting. So now, people dutifully make their way to church fellowship halls, where usually the men’s club cooks up a ton of stacks of pancakes, usually to raise funds to help the Trustees keep the church in good shape. This is how we evolve in traditions. Of course, in some spots – it seems mostly arising out of the Episcopalians or Presbyterians in Great Britain (though not limited there) – you will find the scene where the clergy and the lay leaders of the church, while the pancake feed is going on, will have a footrace around the church, where they carry a tall pile of steaming pancakes, to see who wins, and gets… bragging rights, which is another wonderful way to start Lent, don’t you think? Because nothing says “I’m preparing myself for the journey of Lent” better than strapping on the old tennis shoes and running with a stack of flapjacks…
Now, “Mardi Gras” or Fat Tuesday, has its roots in French culture. In Britain especially, it is better named Shrove Tuesday. Of course we all know what a “shrove is,” like a “small shrove of trees…” not in the least. Shrove, and it present tense form of the verb, “shrive,” means to shed, or cast off something. When Moses stood before the burning bush, he was commanded to take off his sandals – actually, he was told to “shrive” his shoes. They were no longer needed, and ground he was standing on was indeed holy ground, and the sandals only separated him from touching the holy even with the soles of his feet.
On Shrove Tuesday, the plan was meant to take the day in dutiful preparation for the journey of Lent ahead, although, again, in human nature, we used it to squeeze out the last bit of playful partying and over indulging.
So how did it turn out that New Orleans at least created huge floats and threw beads and such to the bystanders? Again, like most significant rituals and holidays, it’s typical that folks would add “fluff” to what was happening. I remember telling couples before they were getting married, not to let the “fluff” smother them, as they made preparations to hand roses from the altar to almost every woman in the room, and have tiny, near-infants transformed into flower girls and ring bearers. So it has happened with Mardi Gras. In New Orleans, significant exclusive clubs, or “krewes” sponsor and lead their own parades, of all sorts of sizes. The largest Krewe is the Rex Krewe (meaning “king”) and originally, the one named King of Carnival would toss coins and necklaces and such to his “subjects.” Other krewes caught on, and now it is nearly impossible to separate the throwing of beads from Mardi Gras. Of course, up here in the northland, during the 4th of July parades, folks on floats or fancy trucks will toss candy out to the kids, like a mobile Halloween.
In a normal year, especially in New Orleans, the celebration, and inebriation continues unabated across the city and in the French Quarter, until the stroke of midnight. In the first moments of Ash Wednesday the police on horseback and in police trucks slowly move down the streets, clearing everyone out and closing down the bars, since it has shifted in that moment from a day of excess to a new day of fasting. Most everyone knows that this is the game plan, and it’s usually done with little resistance.
This year, of course, with the original danger of coronavirus, the mayor and the city shut down Carnival completely, and closed all bars in town from last Friday through today. With the danger of a restart to the epidemic, the party was off. On top of that, given the wind chill watch for the city of New Orleans, and ice storms coming its way, the city is shut down anyway, and perhaps it will give people more time to search out the fats in their homes prior to tomorrow morning…
We live in an unusual world, don’t we? Intentional actions transform into accidental traditions with forgotten meanings, over and over. Now, I’m not saying that we have to research every little part of our lives, trying to find the original meaning of everything. Sometimes it is just fun to run around with a plate full of steaming pancakes. But when we give away completely the sense of why, and the root meaning of the changing of seasons, then frankly, we do lose a bit of our life to be lived. If all we have is a faint shadow of what things originally meant, then that also becomes close to what our own life means – a faint shadow, instead of a bright, clear understanding that it’s time to move to a new season, a new temporary emphasis on our lives and a change that is worth keeping, because it means something. Enjoy the last day of waving goodbye to meat!
Word for the day: agelast. Pronounced like it looks: AGE-last. No, it doesn’t mean someone who looks the same as they did 20 years ago. It’s not age-less. It actually carries a far different root. Gelan is a Greek word for “laugh.” Agelan, or agelastos means “gloomy,” or “nothing to be happy or laugh about.” An “agelast” is someone who just seems to never laugh—they are the true “gloomy Gus” of our world. Their frown is their badge of honor, and I’m sure they know how to find that cloud in every silver lining. These frankly are people you might be well served to let be by themselves, like a pit viper.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.