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Carnival (Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday)

Carnival was celebrated on the the last day of the year before Lent and was a feast like no other in the calendar. It was called Fat Tuesday because all meat and animal products such as cheese, milk, bacon, and fat, had to be eaten before sundown, since none could be consumed during the forty-day Lenten fast (the name derives from carnelevare, the Latin word meaning giving up meat). The winter was ending and supplies were running low, so a fast would soon be inevitable even without the rush to eat everything up by the Fat Tuesday deadline.

This holiday was marked by wild revelling. It was a time for breaking all the rules, for an intermingling of rich and poor; masks were worn to protect everyone's identity. The tradition was to dress in costumes and masks which reversed your position in life. The clergy were particularly offended by the idea of men imitating women or animals. In the eyes of the Church man was created by God to rule over nature - including women. When men dressed as women or animals, there was a feeling that they were reversing God's intentions by imitating rather than ruling nature. The processions and parades often featured male exhibitionism, transvestitism, and simulated copulation.

These features of Carnival survive today in such traditions as the spectacular Mardi Gras of Latin America.

It must not be forgotten that the day also had a serious religious aspect. The people were obliged to make their confession and receive absolution of sins at least once a year, at Eastertime. 'To shrive' means to absolve from sins, so for this reason the name 'Shrove Tuesday' became attached to the day before the beginning of Lent.