Thus far, I’m performing particularly poorly on one of my new year’s resolutions – to create more “involved” blog entries. And by that, I mean that since that blog post, I haven’t succeeded in posting a single blog, in-depth or otherwise.
There are excuses – I’ve been ultra busy and I was pretty unwell for a couple of weeks. I do have ideas for blogs on Italian and English law, but currently, they’re scribbled into various notepads or clogging up memory in constantly open Chrome tabs. I’m excited to write them and I will – I just need to make enough time to be able to do them justice.
In the meantime, here’s a warmup entry – a less serious but highly topical comparison for you to digest alongside your pancakes today, be they fluffy, stacked and bacon-topped USA-style or thin, flexible and soaked in sugary lemon juice as we love here in the UK.
The English terms
I’m greedy and I enjoy cultural traditions – especially when they involve enjoying delicious treats – but I’m not a religious person in any way, so to me, today has always been “Pancake Day”. The more traditional, Christian name for the day would be “Shrove Tuesday” – shrove meaning, “Shrove-tide, or the merrymaking connected therewith” and deriving from “shrive”, a verb meaning “to confess”. The popular celebration of this day – concocting meals and sweets from flour, eggs and sugar – comes from the tradition of using up everything in the house before the Lent fast (being greedy, I participate in the pancakes and not the fast).
The Latinate versions
Entertainingly, the name for this day “on the continent” is semantically rather than etymologically the same, with “martedì grasso” (Italian) or “mardi gras” (French) basically meaning “fat Tuesday”. But when my British language-student peers and I treated our Italian friends to pancakes on this day several years ago, they were thoroughly impressed with a) our version of the celebration and b) our version of “crepes”! In Italy, they do things rather differently.
It’s the weekend prior to Pancake Tuesday / Shrove Day into which people pour the celebrations and this takes place all across Italy, in various forms. Venice is the famous one, with its iconic masks and the accompanying competitions, dinners and balls. The earliest evidence of this celebration comes from 1094, however, it’s said to have originated from much earlier pagan rituals. The masks came slightly later, but (presumably as they were worn for many reasons other than carnival, including political reasons) grew to such importance than the “mascarero” profession achieved special status, with a “statuto” to regulate it: effectively, the mask makers joined a guild and abided by its rules.
During my year abroad I stumbled upon carnevale in Capaccio Paestum, visiting the town and its ancient ruins long after I thought the celebrations were over. This year it has been running since the “Miss Carnevale” competition on 24th February and won’t finish until after Martedì Grasso, with “carri allegorici” taking part in parades in each of the several “contrade” of the town of Capaccio Paestum during that time. There are usually events such as karaoke and talent shows and that famous and particularly Campanian figure, Pulcinella, commonly used in social protest, is bound to feature highly.
It’s been brief but I had to leave a little snippet of something while my (more sophisticated?!) notes build higher than my output. Enjoy this little bit of trivia and I’ll see you soon with something you can get your teeth into… so to speak.