USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘lent’
general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Shrove Tuesday

Main Piece: “Shrove Tuesday is…uh…the last day before Lent. Lent…uh…precedes Easter. Lent lasts about I think a month and during Lent one does not eat as much. So one is more…um…frugal about eating. So the last day before Lent is called Shrove Tuesday and on that day, people eat a lot of pancakes. And the pancakes are tossed in a pan and people like to see how high they can toss them. They usually have lemon on them…squeezed lemon…they’re very nice. And that is the only time of the year that we ate pancakes, just that one day.”

Background: The informant, who grew up in the English countryside, began celebrating Shrove Tuesday as early as he can remember, but stopped around age 16, as the tradition was dying out. He celebrated this holiday at home with family. He notes that eating pancakes was the most enjoyable part of Shrove Tuesday. When asked about the name of the holiday, the informant said “shrove” comes from “shrive” which means to “absolve,” and in terms of this holiday, he thinks it means absolving one’s sins. However, the informant says he and his family did not celebrate Shrove Tuesday in that way.

Performance Context: We spoke over the phone.

My Thoughts: The informant understands Shrove Tuesday as a dying tradition. It seems to have already taken on another form when the informant was celebrating the holiday. As the informant noted, the name “Shrove Tuesday” didn’t accurately describe the holiday he celebrated. Most interesting and special to the informant was the pancake meal, since it was a rare meal to have. As the tradition began to be less celebrated by the informant, the foodways were the only particularly noteworthy component of the holiday. I think of the ways “Shrove Tuesday” in England parallels “Fat Tuesday” in the U.S., where the same notions of celebratory eating are present before the culmination of Lent.

Customs
Festival
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Maslenitsa

“Maslenitsa is basically like a pre-fast to Lent, where you just…you give up meat that week, dairy…so it’s meant to work you off of it. Blini are sweet, so you’re not so depressed, uh…that’s…that’s my take on it. Then you just don’t eat meat or fish or dairy for forty days. Not just Wednesday, Friday–every day.”

Most Christian cultures have their own version of the famous Brazilian Carnival, the blowing off of steam before the fasting that comes with Lent. In Russian Orthodox culture, it is called Maslenitsa. During the week-long holiday, the faithful partake in a pre-fast, as noted by my informant. They give up meat and dairy in preparation for the intense fasting of Lent. In addition, the celebration of Maslenitsa originated in Slavic mythology and was a celebration of the end of winter. Because it still persists to this day, we can see how pagan rituals have been absorbed into Christian holidays. Obviously, this is common across cultures; however, it is especially obvious in this Russian holiday because of the pagan folk elements such as bonfires and the burning of effigies.

Blini, essentially the Russian version of crepes, are the most popular food during this time. They are a traditional Russian dish and are wildly popular; as my informant notes, the fact that blini are everywhere during the week leading up to the Lenten fast makes it easier on everyone.

Customs
Foodways
Material

King Cake

My informant moved around quite a bit when he was younger; he spent a couple years in Texas, Georgia, and Mississippi. In his adolescence, his family moved to Louisiana. Because that is where he went to high school and is therefore the last place he lived before coming to college, it is the place he considers his home. He is proud of being “from” the area near New Orleans. Here is his description of a traditional cake he ate around Mardi Gras:

“A King Cake is a circular cinnamon-roll like cake with green, purple, and yellow icing, the traditional colors of Mardi Gras. It’s named after the three kings from the Bible. Growing up, I consumed King Cake at school with my classmates as well as at home with my family. The cake is consumed during the season of Lent and contains a small plastic baby, which represents baby Jesus. The person who gets the baby in their slice of cake is obligated to bring the King Cake for the following week. So we had King Cake every Friday at school during Lent, since on Fridays you’re allowed some reprieves from the strict Lent rules. The King Cake is very symbolic of one of the most festive times for Louisianans, and it brings all of the community together in celebration of the season. However, while delicious, the cake also serves as a reminder of the obligations one has during the season of Lent.”

This cake became such a significant tradition for my informant that when he went away to college, his grandma mailed him one. Mardi Gras is not nearly as big of a deal in Los Angeles—where my informant attends university—as it is in New Orleans, so he greatly appreciated the gesture. It reminded him of his home and the traditions he spent years celebrating, so it does make sense for him to be sentimental about a cake. What may seem like a simple dessert to an outsider actually has quite a bit of symbolism. As my informant said, even the colors of the frosting have meaning: they are the festive Mardi Gras colors. Food is often intrinsic to special celebrations, and Mardi Gras is the biggest celebration of the region my informant lives in. It is comparable to a birthday cake in that it is a cake eaten at a special time with family and friends, but the King Cake has an added community-building element. The fact the person who eats the piece with the little plastic baby in it has to bring the next cake means that the King Cake itself perpetuates the gatherings of those people. It provides a kind of assurance that they will all come together again in a short time to share the same food and celebrate the season. Therefore, one of the functions of this folklore is the guarantee that those people will meet again.

Legends
Narrative

Rougarou

My informant moved around quite a bit when he was younger; he spent a couple years in Texas, Georgia, and Mississippi. In his adolescence, his family moved to Louisiana. Because that is where he went to high school and is therefore the last place he lived before coming to college, it is the place he considers his home. He is proud of being “from” the area near New Orleans. Here is his description of a legend he picked up while living in Louisiana:

“The Rougarou is a legendary creature in Cajun folklore similar to a werewolf. It is said to have the head of a wolf with the body of a human. Supposedly it spends its time prowling the swamps of Acadiana and the greater New Orleans area. The legend of the Rougarou has often been used a scare tactic to inspire obedience amongst Cajun children. It’s a pretty scary monster. Variations of the legend hold that the Rougarou will hunt down and kill Catholics who do not follow the rules of Lent. As a child, my parents told me the about the Rougarou to keep me from wandering far into swampy areas, which can be very dangerous.”

My informant’s retelling of the basics of the Rougarou legend is an explanation of one way his parents tried to scare him into being safe. This kind of strategy must be quite common in parenting, for I know my parents told me stories to prevent me from doing risky things. I remember other friends of mine saying similar things. One widespread example is when fathers or mothers tell their children that if they make a silly face for too long, their face might get stuck like that forever. The difference is that the Rougarou is more deeply rooted in Louisianan traditions. My informant says that anyone who has lived in the greater New Orleans area for enough time should be familiar with this legend. Another difference is the religious aspect; my informant says that sometimes the story is told to warn people about breaking the rules of Lent. It is interesting how one story can take on different meanings with only slight variations in content and context; this story went from a Catholic cautionary tale to a disciplinary method meant for keeping kids away from the deep swamp.

Foodways
general

Recipe – Mexico

Capirotada

This is a food made only during lent and is eaten on every Friday during this time, including Good Friday. It was a part of seven dishes made. Veronica does not know what the other dishes were, but believes they must have not been so good since they are no longer made. This specific dish was made because it does not have meat, which Catholics are not allowed to eat on Fridays of lent.

The recipe: (serves six people)

Ingredients:
4 bolillos(like French bread) in pieces

1 piloncillo(unrefined brown sugar cone)

1 slice of cinnamon

Pepper (unrefined)

1 clove

1 laurel leaf

3 tomatillos

A piece of onion

Colored pills (chochitos de colores)

Shredded cheese

Walnuts

Shredded coco

Peanuts

Vegetable Oil

Butter
Fry the bolillos in the oil and put them aside so that they do not become hard. In a liter of water add the piloncillo, cinnamon, clove, pepper, laurel leaf, and the 3 tomatillos. Let this come to a boil then turn it off. In a separate pot, add the butter and the bolillos along with the walnuts, peanuts, colored pills, coco, and cheese. Then add only the water from the previous mixture. Let the mix heat on a low fire until everything has been incorporated well and the cheese has melted a bit.

Veronica makes this every lent, and enjoys eating it. She learned the recipe from her mother, who learned it from hers. I have tried this and did not like it, partly because I do not like soggy bread and because the ingredients all have a very defining taste. The recipe itself seems unclear and hard to follow, reason that leads me to believe that it can only be learned if it is taught to you by someone.

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