Issue 115, page 1
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As we write this, many parts of the Christian world are preparing for the fast of Lent which begins with Ash Wednesday. Traditionally, anything remotely luxurious, such as fat, was shunned for Lent. Lent is a shortened form of lenten which is related to lengthen. Lenten refers to Spring, the season in which the days lengthen.
So, if you had anything tasty in your larder by the beginning of Lent, you either threw it away or (guess which we'd choose?) used up everything you had in one big blow-out. Hence the two kinds of name for this day: carnival (from Latin carne levare "putting away meat") or Mardi gras (French for "fat Tuesday"). Oh, in case it had escaped your notice, a larder is where one stores lard (and other tasty treats) but a pantry is where one keeps the pans.
Although the Anglican church calls this day Shrove Tuesday, to most people in Britain this is Pancake Day. That is, the day on which butter and eggs are used up in making piles of crepes and on which women, tossing pancakes in frying pans, compete in "pancake races". While this sounds lame when compared to the high jinks in New Orleans, Trinidad, and Rio, we should remember that the shrove in Shrove Tuesday is an Old English verb which means "to impose a penance".
One of the odder customs associated with this day was the Shrovetide cock. A rooster was tied up and pelted with rocks. While this does seem strange to us these days, just remember, the rooster was the medieval equivalent of the alarm-clock. Seriously though, for some reason, most English Shrovetide customs seem to involve being cruel to chickens. Many places held cock-fights on this day and in some Scottish schools the owner of the winning rooster was exempt from punishment during Lent.
Then there was cock-throwing in which a rooster was tethered and wooden stakes were thrown at it. If you could concuss the bird and grab it before it regained consciousness you could keep it. Imagine the fun! In Brighton live hens were placed in pots hung over the street and contestants lobbed things at them. Deaths of by-standers resulted in a ban of that particular version of the "sport".
The English county of Sussex was home to thrashing the hen. This quaint, old-fashioned custom closely resembles the Mexican party piñata in that a blind-folded contestant tries to hit the prize with a stick. In this case, the prize was a chicken and the object was not just to strike it but to beat it to death. And just to add to the general merriment, the chicken was not hanging from a string, it was tied to a man wearing a costume covered in bells. Presumably, the bells were to aid the blind-folded contestant in finding the correct person when lashing about with the stick. Oh, those far-off days of simple pleasures!
A Shrovetide hen, on the other hand, was a hen "sent as a present on Shrove-Tuesday". Children went shroving (singing for money and food) and were given shrove-cakes but there was a rowdier element involved. Shrove prentices were gangs of "ruffianly fellows" calling themselves London-prentices who would "invade houses of ill-repute" on Shrovetide. Precursors to today's lager louts and football hooligans, perhaps.
Speaking of football, this was another Shrovetide sport. In various parts of England, games of Shrovetide football were played but they bore little resemblance to what we now know as soccer. The "games" were very rowdy affairs and often ranged for miles between towns. How many U.S. soccer moms stop to wonder about the origins of the word soccer? As its rules were defined by the Football Association, this version of the game became known as association football and the soc in association became soccer.
Then there's the shrove-mouse which is just a mistake for shrew-mouse which just a shrew and not a mouse at all.
Tuesday is the day of "Tiw", a Teutonic deity who was seen as equivalent to Mars, the Roman god of war, by ancient worshippers of Mithras. The cult of Mithras was a Roman mystery religion based on the (much-altered) Persian myth of Mithra with a few exotic nuggets like the "week" which was imported from Babylon. Why Tiw was singled out as being the "war god" is unknown. He was moderately bellicose but no more so than his fellow Aesir. His name (also written Tiwaz) just means "god" and is essentially the same as Sanskrit diva, Latin deus, Italian dio, Spanish dios and Welsh diw.
Modern German Dienstag and Dutch Dinsdag, both meaning "Tuesday", were previously thought to be derived from the word thing, "assembly, parliament". It is now thought that they derive from Thinxus, a version of Tiw which has been preserved in a Latin inscription.
Words for Tuesday
From the Babylonians
From contact with Mithraism
Derived from Latin dies martis
From Mithraism. indirectly, via Teutonic Tiesdag
From Christianity (via numerically challenged scribes)
Now, please excuse us, we have some pancakes to eat.
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© 1995-2001 TIERE
Last Updated 03/06/01 05:34 PM