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Fat Tuesday may well have it’s roots in the Catholic Church, but the public at large will happily pick up any excuse for partying and celebrating, making the modern day Fat Tuesday as much a secular holiday as a religious one. Fat Tuesday is more commonly known as Mardi Gras – “Mardi” being the French word for Tuesday, and “gras” being the French word for fat.

The reason Fat Tuesday is “Fat”, has its roots in the religious side of the holiday though. The name was in contrast to the 40 day fast that followed it for Lent, a Catholic period of penance. Most Catholics these days observe the roughly month and a half period by abstaining from meat – but not fish – on every Friday during that time, as well as by choosing something pleasurable to deny themselves such as chocolate, alcohol, or even social media (with varying degree of success anyway).

Originally though, Catholics were expected to adhere to a much stricter diet for the Lenten fast. Not only was meat prohibited on Fridays, but on every day during Lent, along with anything which “came from flesh”. That meant no meat, no milk, no butter, no cheese, no eggs, no fish, no animal fat, and – just for added measure – no wine.

With such a strict regimen expected for such a long stretch of time, it’s no surprise that celebrating and enjoying those things they would soon be denying themselves quickly became common practice beforehand. Much like students throwing an end of summer party before returning to the strict expectations of the school year, so too would Catholics throw a big party – Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday – to indulge in all the things they wouldn’t be allowed to have for the next 40 days.

In some countries, this single day party was even extended into an entire festival season extending from Christmas through Mardi Gras. Carnevale – debated as meaning either “goodbye to meat” from the Latin “carne” (meat) and the Latin “vale” (goodbye), or meaning “the removal of meat” from the Latin “caro” (flesh) and the Latin “lavare” (remove) – is an even more elaborate celebration than Mardi Gras, including not only feasting, parties, and parades, but also contests, races, social satire, pranks, masks, and more. In short, everything decadent, licentious, debaucherous, and pleasurable; everything that could possibly make Fat Tuesday “Fat”.

Well, that explains what makes Fat Tuesday “Fat” but why would a celebration that originally grew out of a religious-based abstention have such a different date each year?

Just as Fat Tuesday is the celebration before Lent, so too is Lent the penance before Easter. Catholics and most Christian sects consider Easter to be a central holiday in their religion as it commemorates the day they believe Jesus (Yeshua) was resurrected from the dead. Easter – itself named after the Germanic goddess Eastre (also Eostra, and Ostara, regionally), from whose spring and fertility celebrations many Easter practices originate – draws its timing from the Jewish holiday of Passover. Jesus, as a Jewish man, is popularly believed to have had a “Last Supper” with his students which was a seder, or religious feast, celebrating the Jewish holiday of Passover.

Since this is seen as the final meal Jesus ate before dying (and in turn the believed resurrection celebrated on Easter) the Christian holiday of Easter is intrinsically based on the timing of the Jewish holiday of Passover. And since the Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar which does not directly line up with the solar calendar, the date of Passover – and likewise the date of Easter, Lent, and Fat Tuesday – change from year to year.

Fat Tuesday can be as early as February 3rd, or as late as March 9th, depending on when the first full moon after the Spring Equinox occurs (the Jewish lunar calendar adjusting approximately every three years to remain in line with the solar calendar, based on when the holiday of Passover falls in relation to the spring season). This year, while the first full moon does technically fall immediately after the Spring Equinox, it is only by a difference of four hours, not even close to a full day. That puts the first full moon – by a difference of at least a day anyway – on April 19th, and the first Sunday after as the 21st. All in all, this makes for this year having one of the latest possible Fat Tuesdays; March 5th.

But hey, when it comes to a season of revelry leading up to a giant all day party, who doesn’t want that season to last as long as possible? And whatever you celebrate – secular or otherwise – we here at Gourmet for Good are fully on board with any celebration that includes enjoying the pleasure of good food and good company.


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