OK, I know today isn’t Mardi Gras. Fat Tuesday, or Shrove Tuesday, was in fact yesterday, while today of course is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. I’ve blogged about Lent in the past and will again — probably sometime over the next 40 days — but first I’ll catch you up on what I did yesterday.
When I was a child, observing Lent was not a part of our tradition, but the tradition of Shrove Tuesday as “Pancake Night” lingered. I was an adult before I realized that the pancake ritual arose because people who gave up rich things like eggs, milke and sugar for Lent would fry up a batch of pancakes to get rid of all the naughty stuff before the fast began. Since I normally give up chocolate and fiction for Lent, pancakes are a little irrelevant, but irrelevance has never stopped me from enjoying things.
The pancakes I enjoyed on Pancake Night as a child were made by my Aunt Gertie, in whose house we lived until I was 7. She followed the tradition of hiding small objects in the pancake batter, with certain “fortunes” associated with what you found in your pancake. If you found a coin, you were going to be rich; if you found a nail, you were going to be a carpenter, or marry a carpenter, etc. I think there was even a thimble indicating you were going to be/marry a seamstress, which on reflection makes me think those must have been some awesomely thick pancakes if they could conceal an entire thimble.
Looking back, it seems incredible to me that someone as safety-conscious as my mother OK’d a tradition which involved giving a child pancakes with nails and coins in them. Choking hazard, anyone? Ah well, it was a different time. My parents were very protective, but they also drove me all the way to Toronto in the back seat of a car with a piece of plywood laid across the seat to make it into a giant playpen with no restraining devices whatsoever. I survived that trip, and I never choked on a nickel in my pancake on Shrove Tuesday either… but that doesn’t mean I’m about to stick small chokable items into pancakes for my kids.
There is, however, a more recent local custom that I like. The Raise the Roof campaign to raise money for homeless youth has an annual pancake breakfast on Shrove Tuesday. The organizations that benefit are ones that I wholeheartedly approve of and in some cases have a personal connection to — over the last four years, money has gone to Choices for Youth, Community Youth Network, Habitat for Humanity, among others. Emma and I have gone twice, but this year, for the first time, I got the whole family up early and we all went to the breakfast.
It was a mixed success, at best. The pancake breakfast (which is broadcast live on the CBC morning show) has grown in popularity each year. I heard from someone I know who was serving yesterday that last year’s breakfast drew 600 people, while this year they had 1500. There was no place to sit, food was slow arriving, and even people who came with the intention of enjoying a fun community meal and helping others began to get testy as they tried to get a few pancakes and still get to work on time. I’m hoping that next year they’ll adjust to the growing pains with a larger venue and more staff. It really is a great event and I’m glad to have been part of it despite the snags.
Last night Jason and I had the luxury of a babysitter while we went to the first night of a parenting seminar that our church is hosting. Afterwards we went out for a rare coffee date together, and I had a hot chocolate and a piece of chocolate cheesecake. That was my personal Mardi Gras, satisfying my chocolate cravings for the next few weeks while I work on practicing a little self-denial.
I’m enjoying an unexpected day off today. Christopher, who has been praying to get the same cold the rest of us got so he can get a day off school, complained of a stomachache and headache and “maybe running a fever” last night. It wasn’t quite a cold, but it was enough to keep him up and in our bed half the night, and to make him look convincingly pathetic at 7:00 this morning. I let him take the sick day so that I could stay home with him and take a sick day of my own on the grounds of having gotten virtually no sleep. Of course, now he’s sitting here listening to Adventures in Odyssey and picking at his guitar, looking perfectly fine, but at least I get a day to catch up on some stuff at home. So this is the beginning of my Lenten discipline — giving up work for a day. Not too tough so far!
Be sure to check out Compulsive Overreader, where I’m going to post some reviews of the last few fiction reads I enjoyed and then start reviewing the non-fiction books I’m reading between now and Easter.