So many of our family traditions and memories come from those special moments we share at a family meal. If we’ve been blessed to observe our grandparents cook or even have a cherished family recipe that has been passed down from generation to generation, we open up a rich discussion around the table with our children.
Growing up, my family observed the Lenten season with the typical fasting and abstinence of meat on Fridays. There were three distinct meals I remember – tomato soup and grilled cheese, cheese pizza, and my grandmother’s crepe. Both my paternal grandparents were French and the crepe recipe my mom made was that of her mother-in-law. Mamma’s (the name I called my grandmother) crepes were not the thin, delicate crepes you may see in fancy restaurants, stuffed with all kinds of goodies, they were quite thick and looked more like an oversized pancake (but taste nothing like the pancakes we make today).
My curiosity got the better of me and I began to research different crepe recipes, perhaps there was another name for this Friday night Lenten treat I grew up with. However, I got side-tracked by articles about Mardi Gras and its history.
Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, or Carnival Season. Since Roman times, Carnival has been celebrated in European countries as a brief season of feasting in the time between Epiphany and Lent. A season rich in Christian tradition that included parades, games, costumes, and food. Carnival is an important celebration in Anglican and Catholic European nations. Often referred to as “Shrovetide” – derived from the Christian custom of confessing sins and being absolved just before Lent.
Many cultures around the world observe the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday as the end of the Carnival season. Carnival Tuesday dates back to a time when restrictions regarding food and entertainment were made during Lent. It was a day to use up all the “pleasurable” foods in the household, such as meat, dairy, and eggs. The word Carnival evolved from Levare Carne which means “remove the meat from the meal”. Pancakes and other fried breads and pastries were easily made of the “rich” ingredients that had to be used up before the solemn season of Lent; a time that ends the dancing and begins the mourning. This act of “giving something up” was a way to join in the sacrificial passion of Jesus Christ.
I never did find the crepe recipe I was looking for, but I did find some fun facts about the rich Christian traditions we share. I know there are many who will celebrate the day with behavior that’s not keeping with the values of our faith, but perhaps we can take this opportunity to bridge the gap with the next generation and share the stories of those who paved the way into this holy season.