February 24: Shrove Tuesday

20th February 2004 at 00:00
The day before Ash Wednesday, the start of the Christian penitential season of Lent.

Outline script for assembly leader

In the West Indies, especially on Trinidad, this is carnival time. People make elaborate costumes and compose calypsos, one of which is selected each year as the carnival song. The start of the two-day carnival, very early on the Monday morning, is called "Jouvay", from the French: Le jour est ouvert (the day is open). On the Tuesday, people come out in their costumes, steel bands play, there are fireworks and the feasting and dancing continue until midnight.

In Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil, there are huge processions and the festival lasts for three days; the traditional music is the samba. In Italy and southern Germany there is also feasting and drinking; people wear fancy dress and masks and go to parties or join in street parades.

In Britain, we toss a mixture of eggs, flour and milk in the air. The purpose is the same: to celebrate before the 40-day period known as Lent, when people used to give up eating rich foods. Eggs, meat and cream had to be used up. Other English customs include pancake races, in which contestants run through the main street, tossing pancakes in a frying pan as they go (there has been a pancake race at Olney in Buckinghamshire for more than 500 years); in some towns there used to be a "wide game" - rather like soccer but without rules - with goals some three miles apart.

The word carnival comes from the Italian carnevale (from carne: "meat", and vale: "farewell"). In French-speaking countries, the day is called Mardi Gras ("Fat Tuesday"), and in Germany it is Fasching or Fastnacht (fasting night). The English word "Shrove" comes from the medieval verb "to shrive" (to hear confession and forgive sins).

Follow-up

If possible, make pancakes. In art or design, students could research and devise carnival costumes. Background information: www.bbc.co.ukreligionreligionschristianityholydaysshrovetuesday

Details of the Olney Race: www.sideburn.demon.co.ukolneypancake

For details of Irish traditions: www.irishcultureandcustoms.comACalendShroveTues

David Self

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