Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Origins of Fat Tuesday


Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Pancake Day, Fastnacht.


What’s all this fuss about a plain old Tuesday? 
Well, it’s all because of a dirty Wednesday.

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, which gets its first name from the ashes of burnt palm fronds that are placed upon a supplicant’s head, made in the sign of the cross. For the Christian congregations that celebrate it, Ash Wednesday is considered the beginning of Lent -- the 40 days that lead up to Easter. 
(The word Lent is derived from the Old English word for spring “lencten”) 

Originally, the 40 days of Lent were meant to be sort of a religious boot camp to prepare converts to Christianity. Ash Wednesday was the kick-off that lead up to Super Sunday--Easter, when the converts would be baptized.  Eventually there was just about no one left in Rome to convert, so Lent itself was converted into a time of penance, of fasting, of abstinence.  Folks abstained from all sorts a good stuff including meat or “carne” (carne – flesh, the root word for  “carnival”). They also gave up eggs and dairy products. So on Tuesday, the day before the start of the Lenten fast, folks cleared out their cupboards of all the foods they couldn’t have for the next 40 days. They cooked ‘em up and ate like pigs. In essence they feasted before the fast. In France a fattened ox was paraded through the streets before the big communal BBQ, and thus the day was given the name Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday.)

The English do things their own way (like drive on the left hand side of the road) so they called this day Shrove Tuesday from an Olde English word “shrive” which means to confess, to clean out your soul. The English have a tradition of eating a dinner of  “Shrove cakes” dripping in butter. They are pancakes made with the eggs and dairy products you’re expelling from your home. And that’s why Shrove Tuesday is also known as Pancake Tuesday.(I smell a product tie-in with Denny’s.)

Lent has a symbolic undertone as a time of cleansing in preparation for Easter and spring. You first cleanse your cupboard, then your soul and eventually the entire house is purified. In the Ukraine, people traditionally whitewashed their homes inside and out.  Today we know this as Spring-cleaning.

The more astute readers of this blog may remember last year's Passover memo and have already noticed the similarity between Shrove Tuesday and the Jewish Passover tradition of all non-kosher foods containing yeast being consumed or disposed of before the holiday begins. It's also no coincidence that the celebration of Passover occurs very close to the Christian Lenten fast.  We'll get into that in a few weeks with an Easter/Passover posting. But for now we'll Passover that subject. Ugh.

Over the years the religious side of Shrove Tuesday has been replaced by the Narlins party down, shake your booty, Fat Tuesday  “Hey Mista Throw me zumthin” Cajun communal celebration.

Why New Orleans? And what’s a Cajun?

In 1763 the French and the English concluded one of their frequent World Wars with the Peace of Paris. We call it the French and Indian War because here the colonists fought the French and their Indian allies. In Europe it was referred to as the Seven Years War. It began in Western Pennsylvania and spread throughout the world. The French lost the war and in the process they lost the part of New France called Canada. The English expelled many of the French from the land of the loon. In particular the French who lived in an area along the Eastern coast called Acadia. The Brits renamed it New Scotland –Nova Scotia. The French migrated from Canada to the French territory along the Mississippi named for King Louis called Louisiana. When they got there folks asked them who they were and they replied: "Acadians." Apparently they slurred their speech because they were thereafter referred to not as Acadians, but Cajuns. It seems the Cajuns did a lot of slurring. We know their music as Zydeco. A strange word with an even stranger origin. The first big hit in this musical style had the title: “The String beans are too salty.” Of course its title was in French: “Les Haricots sont trop sel.” Somehow, haricots, pronounced: Arr-ree-co, morphed into “Zydeco.”

Okay, enough linguistic lunacy.

Point is the French Catholics in New Orleans kept alive the ancient Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras approach to Lent.

It’s obvious that Mardi Gras has a seamy undertone; its wild pagan sexual abandon is very close to the surface. Interesting isn’t it, that Tuesday/Mardi is named for a pagan god – Mars? Similarly, Tuesday is named for Tiw the Teutonic god of war.

Mardi Gras retains the concept of feasting before the fast, but folks gorge on sex and alcohol, not buttered pancakes. It’s more about booby flashing then soul searching. This non-religious celebration has more to do with the human flesh meaning of carne –carnal knowledge, than that of eating animal flesh – carnivorous.

Fun Mardi Gras Fact: In Athens, during the 6th cent. B.C., a yearly libidinous celebration in honor of the god Dionysus (Bacchus) was the first recorded instance of the use of a parade float. 

But as we’ve seen before, many religious holidays are instituted to suppress the pagan, bacchanalian side of society. No big surprise then, that it was during the Roman Empire that pagan carnivals got way out of hand. The major Roman carnivals were the Bacchanalia, the Saturnalia, and the Lupercalia. 

Lupercalia still lives today in St. Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras. It was held annually on Feb. 15. This Roman fertility festival consisted of male youths who ran around town dressed in costumes (animal skins) slapping passersby on the rump with strips of goatskin. (Goats were the embodiment of sexuality; goats –horny—get it?) This was supposed to induce fertility and ward off evil. The straps were called “Februa” and thus February got its name. But you already know that from my last Valentine’s Day post.

In Europe, the tradition of fertility celebrations persisted well into Christian times.  Since they were deeply rooted in European folklore it was difficult for the church to stamp them out. So they were finally accepted and modified into church sanctioned events with the sexuality dialed way down, i.e. St. Valentine’s Day celebrates love not lust.

But as we can all plainly see on the news tonight, the pagan part of the Shrove Tuesday religious celebration has reared its horny little head.

Well that’s about it, I gotta go eat my pancake supper, get all my doubloons ready for my throws; go join my krewe, the Mystick Krewe of Comus  ‘n sashay down Bourbon Street.

Laissez les   bon     temps  rouler!
Let    the  good    times   roll!

Happy Lupercalia everyone!

Fat Dano

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Origins of St. Valentine's Day

Okay, so what's with the little fat guy with the bow and arrow? 

Well, by now you know the drill. 
Many present day Western holidays can be traced back to the Greeks. 

Somewhere along the line the Romans borrowed those ideas and not long after, the Christian Church changed their meaning to put a "holy" spin on them.

They became known as holy days--- holidays. 
St. Valentine's Day is no exception.

Snap zoom back to Greece. 

EROS - son of Chaos


Eros is the god of love. 

He was not only exotic he was erotic. He was the son of Chaos “the original primeval emptiness of the universe.”  (Imagine what that title would look like on a business card.) 

Later tradition held that Eros was the son of Aphrodite; goddess of sexuality (root word for aphrodisiac)

In this version the paternity is a little fuzzy. 
His pops was either Zeus (Bill Gates), Ares - the god of war (Donald Rumsfeld) or Hermes, the Divine messenger of the Gods (and one hell of a scarf maker.)  

Ares --the God of War (not to be confused with the astrological sign of the ram Aries) always traveled with an entourage that included his sister Eris, and her sons Phobos, Metus, Demios and Pallor . 

In English his homies are: Discord, Panic, Fear, Dread, and Terror.  (Phobos gives us the word for “fear of”: phobia. Pallor’s terror makes us “pale”.)

Eros had two sidekicks: Pothos and Himeros (Longing and Desire). Isn’t it always longing and desire that gets humans into trouble with things erotic?
Eros getting younger...
Eros was an adult but through the ages he was depicted younger and younger until he appeared as  a cherub-like infant. Kind of a fat, horny little butterball.
And younger.

In many illustrations Eros is shown blindfolded because, of course, love is blind. Eros was armed with both darts and arrows. Once wounded by their magic tips the victim will either fall uncontrollably in love or have total disinterest in the first person they see.

Before we go on a Roman holiday let’s swing by India for a second.
In another one of those one-world connections, there is a Hindu love god called Kama (as in Sutra.) 

He also carries a bow and arrow. He isn’t winged but flies on the back of a parrot or a sparrow and is accompanied by a honeybee, which symbolizes love’s sweetness and its sting. For some bizarre reason in modern day India young Indians have taken a liking to Cupid over Kama and send each other Valentines, instead of Kamas. Go figure.

Okay back to Europe.

Along come the Romans.  They swipe most of the Greek gods and give them new names. Aphrodite becomes Venus (Venus is the root word for venereal).  Ares the God of war becomes Mars (Mars is the root word for "martial" i.e. warlike.)

Eros becomes Cupid, son of Venus and Mercury the Roman messenger of the gods.

Since Mercury was kind of a Divine Federal Express service he has become the patron god of the Business world. You’ll see him all over the place here in the capital of Capitalism. 

You’ll see him and his little winged hat on the front of Grand Central Terminal.


You’ll also see a stylized version of his helmet as ornaments jutting out from the Chrysler Building.

This god not only got his own day of the week--Wednesday (or in Spanish Miercoles, in french Mercredi) you'll even find this pagan god next to "In God we trust" on our money.

Okay, enough mercury madness--I'm becoming mad as a hatter. (there's a connection there if you want to look it up)

So Cupid gets married to Psyche.

Cupid leading Psyc
Psyche translates to "Soul" and is the root word that Sigmund Freud gave to his new science, which he called "Psyche-ology", it would later lose the e. He kept the mythology though, as in an “Oedipal complex” based on the Greek character: Oedipus. 

So Cupid is known for leading Psyche. Which is a beautiful allegory for the soul being lead by love.
Okay, so now we got this little fat guy shooting people in the ass with arrows. My guess is when he shot em in the butt they yelled "Damn Cupid" and later he became known as Dan Cupid. Just a guess there.

In Rome, February 15
th was traditionally the time of the Lupercian festival, a purification fest, an ode to the god of fertility and a celebration of sensual pleasure, thus a time to meet and greet a prospective mate. During this festival, half naked male runners smacked women in the butt with leather thongs called "februa" in the belief that the act would make a barren woman fertile. Februa and the festival day of Februarius on Feb.15th is where the month of February gets its name. 

In the 5th Century, when the Roman Catholics were running Rome, the church decided folks were getting just a little too randy. There was a little too much thong-slapping going on. 

So in the year 496 Pope Gelasius outlawed the pagan festival and began promoting a Saint who had been beheaded by Emperor Claudius in 278 A.D. for marrying young lovers, his name --- St. Valentine. 

St. Valentine getting past the velvet ropes and into heaven
His feast day was set, conveniently enough, one day before the Lupercian festival.
Eventually the Lupercian orgy died down but traditions don't die as easily.  

Nowadays, no one knows who the hell St. Valentine was or whether to spell it Valentine's Day or Valentines Day. They even forget to use his hard earned title of Saint. But everyone knows the little fat bastard armed with bow and arrow.
In other words, Cupid is still around 1,516 years after he was outlawed.
An outlaw of love.
Happy Februarius Everyone.
And a happy thong-slapping to all of you.

Dano Cupid