Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Shrove Tuesday

Terrible Tax Tuesday (Shrove or Pancake Tuesday)
Ah yes, welcome to the end of Carnival (Goodbye to Meat; Latin carnem levare, meaning "to take away the flesh"), Shrove Tuesday. For modern lovers of liberty, this day and its history has a lot of meaning. Originally, saying goodbye to meats, fats (hence, French "Mardi Gras" or "Fat Tuesday); was a fact of life: in ancient and medieval times, you finished eating the last of the fresh produce (meat-includinig fats, vegetables, sugar, fruit, etc.) from the last Harvest: in a pre-freezer/refrigeration society, and even before the invention of modern home-canning, that day came inevitably, and you were reduced to the preserved stuff. You had to make sure that you didn't eat eggs that needed to be next season's chickens; that you had enough left to provide the next generations of animals and protein for the spring planting (and wartime) before the new litters were big enough to be able to eat. You had to eat everything up before it went bad: it was better to store as fat in your body than as something moulding and stinking in the root cellar. As it so often did, the medieval (Roman Catholic) church made virtue out of necessity, and dictated that there was to be no consumption of meat, eggs, and sweets during the forty holy days leading up to the Spring festival of Easter; which became Lent. So the three days before the official beginning of Lent (Ash Wednesday) and its contemplation and fasting was supposed to be a period of preparing yourself for the Lenten feast: clean out the house, use up the last of the prohibited foods (the last slices of meat were traditionally eaten on Collop (Slice or Chop) Monday (Rosenmontag) and the fat saved until Tuesday to cook pancakes in), and go see the priest to shrive yourself: hence the English term "Shrove Tuesday" (Also known as Pancake Tuesday, to use the last of the jams and preserves and fat and eggs.)

The clearing out of the foods became (especially for the upper classes, who didn't have to worry as much about starving to death in the next six weeks before the winter wheat and other crops came available and the litters started dropping) an excuse for feasting - and feasting of course means parties. The shriving on Tuesday evening was an excuse to go out and be quite debauched - since the priest would be told everything and "forgive" everything shortly, and you entered the holy season in a state of grace. But. Three days of partying was too much for the medieval and Middle Ages Catholic Church and Carnival was reduced to just one day (officially - by the way, don't tell the Germans). So people partied harder, just shorter, and the Age of Reason gave an excuse to forget the shriving (and any associated repentence, penance, or restitution). When the tradition was carried from France, Portugal, and other European climes to the Americas, it became more, shall we say, intense or concentrated, and today, we have the BIG parties in N'Orleans and Rio-de, and the smaller parties all over the place: excuses for wholesale debauchery and lewdness and all that even Paris or Lisboa would have shunned. A virtue turned on the wheels of if and became a vice - actually, a whole collection of vices.

In the same way, all the virtues of the Republic, here as we enter into an accelerated decline, have spawned vices. As if we know we are entering the Lenten season of the second American civilization, we gorge ourselves to excess, bloated deficits and cataclysmic spending; expansion of military actions and occupations; expanding of government size and "duties" and privileges; fresh and new and huge crops of enemies - usually barbarians - internal and external. The emperor (or First Citizen) parades in his new clothes; the whores of L Street occupy their corners and push out into the street, stopping the traffic; the sluts of the legislative branches invite more and more lovers into bed with them and try to outdo their sisters with more and more obscene tricks. Almost totally oblivious to the fact that tomorrow is Ash Wednesday; when not just repentence but penance and punishment come due: the "Little Judgment" is upon us, however unaware we are of its coming.

It is ironic, and fitting, that all these days of commemoration, days of remembrance, all fall together this year: Lincoln's Birthday, the Iranian Islamic Revolution, St. Valentine's Day, Lunar New Year, President's Day, Collop Monday and Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. Some predict the end of the "world as we know it," in two and a half-years time, more or less; but the signs of the coming doom are there for us to read. Too many of us are too drunk (or too hungover) to make it to the chapel at midnight and get that cross of ashes marked on our forehead, too blind and too distracted to stop and confess and repent and turn away from the evil of our days; too submersed in the filth of a spiritual and political Bourbon Street to recognize our danger. The meat and fat and sugar and eggs and fresh fruits and vegetables that were laid down in the early days of the Republic, paid for by the blood of tyrants and patriots, has been eaten: the cupboard, the pantry, the cellar, and the silo are all empty - the time of self-denial returns instead to its earlier pagan incarnation as the time of starving and fear and evil expectation: the joy of looking forward to the Eternal's resurrection is not there; because our society's, our civilization's faith is dust. Groundhog or not, shadow or not, the days of winter lay long and heavy before us: and no ordinary political or social or physical winter. No, a fimbulwinter, perhaps, an ice-age winter and spring and summer; a nuclear-winter.

Is there any hope? As the Lord told Elijah (I Kings 19:18) - "Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him." Even in these days of the First Citizen's Carnival, a circus the like of which has not been seen since Nero Caesar, there are still those people who have not bowed the knee, who will still stand for liberty and our rights as God's children: the heirs of Hebrews and Greeks and Romans and Schweitz and Englishmen and Americans who will keep that heritage. I hope that you and I are among that number: who will wear the ash humbly, repenting and making restitution for what we have and for what we look forward to. As for the rest, well, let me quote Sam Adams: "If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel, nor your arms. Crouch down
and lick the hand that feeds you; May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen."