Ron Cherry: Mardi Gras, pancakes and Lent |

Ron Cherry: Mardi Gras, pancakes and Lent

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Ron Cherry

Everyone knows about Mardi Gras, right? Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is a big party that consumes the city of New Orleans as well as many other metropolises around the world.

Rio's Carnival makes New Orleans' version look tame. But let's talk about the Mardi Gras parade in our thriving metropolis of Nevada City (although on Sunday, Feb. 18, rather than Tuesday to attract out of town visitors) as well as Shrove Tuesday on the Isle of Man, where I lived for five years, and at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Grass Valley.

I admit that calling Nevada City (population 3,145 as of 2016) a metropolis is pushing the envelope, but it does do its best to have a "really big show."

The parade has marching bands, jugglers and brightly masked, costumed participants. Bead tossing has been curtailed due to possible injuries and damage to property, but cheap and garish plastic beads abound in emulation of the slightly larger New Orleans affair. And, of course, so do adult beverages.

... the emphasis in Nevada City is on being a family-friendly event rather than the wild bacchanalia you find in New Orleans or Rio.

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However, the emphasis in Nevada City is on being a family-friendly event rather than the wild bacchanalia you find in New Orleans or Rio.

So what does all this have to do with pancakes? A lot.

In many Anglican churches throughout the Western world, there is a Tuesday night dinner of pancakes the day before Ash Wednesday. Such was the case on the Isle of Man, thin pancakes served with a dusting of powdered sugar.

Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Grass Valley will be serving a modified version at lunchtime and dinner on Feb. 13 with waffles, plus ham and eggs, instead of pancakes.

differences between the English & the French

The whole reason for Fat Tuesday and Shrove Tuesday is the same: get rid of all those tempting goodies before entering into the 40 days of Lent, the time when denominations like Anglican, Methodist, Roman Catholic and Lutheran give up something like desserts, alcohol or some such absolutely essential part of life in preparation for Easter.

In fact, "shrove" is the past tense of an old English word "shrive," which means confession, penance, or absolution. No, this is no sermon, but if you want Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday and Lent to tie together, bear with me. Mardi Gras is French. Shrove Tuesday is English. Now get ready for some exaggerations and generalizations that have a wee bit of truth.

When the French dispose of temptation, they do it by partying until the temptations are consumed or they are too wiped out to care if any are left. The British sit around in church and eat pancakes.

Now, according to my DNA test, I am mainly British, so this is not a slam against the Brits. In fact, nine months later, while French past revelers are going through paternity suits for a night they were too drunk to remember, the Brits are sitting by the fire with a cup of tea. But let's return to the day after Mardi Gras and Shrove Tuesday: Ash Wednesday.

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the 40 days of Lent (from the Old English for spring), the time before Easter when you give up something you like in order to experience a little of the deprivation Jesus felt during his 40 days in the wilderness.

Before any OCD-types say that it's not 40 days from Ash Wednesday, Feb. 14, to Easter Sunday, April 1, all Sundays are feast days in honor of Christ's Sunday resurrection, so they don't count. After all, you can't fast and feast at the same time. Subtract the six Sundays and the time span from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday is 40 days.

Lest any think of Lent as a dour time, it is not when Christians wear sackcloth and ashes. Some don't give up anything. Some add something positive, such as helping at homeless shelters, prayer and meditation or attending special services.

Trinity Church in Nevada City will be having Compline services at 7 p.m. every Sunday during Lent. These candlelit services have no sermons or collection plates and are chanted by a choir.

Compline, or Prayers at the End of the Day, is traditionally the final church service for monasteries and nunneries. Coming as the last service before retiring for the night, it emphasizes spiritual peace.

To summarize, on Ash Wednesday, the Brits go to church (at least those who do) with a full stomach and no sweets in the house while the French go to church (at least those who do) with a hangover, no memory of the night before and a diminished stock of booze. Then Lent starts.

And that's the simplified version of the connection between Mardi Gras, pancakes and Lent.

Ron Cherry's books, including the Morg Mahoney detective series, are available on Kindle and in print copy at Amazon. His new book, "The St. Nicholas Murders," is a Christmas mystery that takes place in a small town in the Sierra Foothills that is remarkably similar to Nevada City and is now out in paperback and Kindle on Amazon. Check out his website at

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