DAILY BRIEFINGThe Moron's Daily Briefing
Mar. 4 - Today is Shrove Tuesday. The name is derived from the ancient practice of Roman Catholic priests "shroving" their parishioners in preparation for forty days of privation. Both practices--the shroving and the period of privation it prepared for--were borrowed from the Eastern Orthodox church.
Hence the name "Lent."
Lent is intended to commemorate the forty days and nights Jesus spent in the wilderness after John gave him a swirly in the River Jordan.
We know very little of Jesus' activities while he was in the wilderness. In fact, compounding all the evidence from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the full extent of our knowledge is that Jesus didn't eat for forty days. That's nearly six weeks. They tell us he went nearly six weeks without eating, then add that "he was hungry."
Sometimes Biblical intepretation is pretty straightforward stuff.
Unfortunately for Jesus, Carnival had not yet been invented. Carnival is a tradition that evolved out of Lent during the middle ages, when people decided that if they were really going to be abstinent for forty days (the period from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday), then at least they were going to get roaring drunk beforehand. As a result, the French began calling Shrove Tuesday "Fat Tuesday." Or, in English, "Mardi Gras."
The citizens of New Orleans, under French rule for most of the 1700s, did an especially good job of eating and drinking to excess on Mardi Gras. As their territory passed first to Spanish and ultimately U.S. stewardship, each new government did their best to stamp out the festivities. This ensured that the fabulous celebrations would become a tradition. Mardi Gras became synonymous with balls and parades.
Wealthy citizens had the biggest balls. The waterfront balls were always full of seamen. Radicals were known for their infamous red balls, while nature lovers had unappealing green balls. Barbers had hairy balls. The prisons had macabre hanging balls. Women were discouraged from having balls of their own, but there was no shortage of wealthy men willing to pay women to hold their balls.
And so on.
Eventually the double-entendres got old. There was more to Mardi Gras than balls. There were also parades that became more and more fantastic each year, with spectacular gaudy floats from which scantily clad women tossed strings of beads out to the adoring crowds.
Because of their religious significance, these came to be known as Venerable Beads, and they remain quite popular in Britain.
Shroving is still a popular recreation in parts of western Europe.
Knute Rockne would have been 115 today. Antonio Vivaldi would have been 325.
Today is also Discovery Day in Guam and Carnival in Switzerland.
© 2002, The Moron's Almanac