12 February 2013

Shrove Tuesday

Weather – If the sun smiles on Saint Eulalie's Day, it is good for apples and cider, they say.

So much as the sun shines on Shrove Tuesday, the like will shine on every day in Lent.

Thunder on Shrove Tuesday foretells wind, a great store of fruit, and plenty.

If the 12th, 13th, and 14th of February are stormy, the rest of the year will be fine.

On Shrove Tuesday, whosoever doth plant or sow, it shall remain always green.

Naogeorgus, in his mid-16th century rant “Popish Kingdom”, spent a lot of ink on the infamous practices of Carnival, Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday.  How dare people have fun!  Dancing and feasting and masques, oh my!  The world is going to hell in a handbasket, saith our old curmudgeon, starting with Carnival, which began the Saturday before Shrove Tuesday:

Now when at length the pleasant time of Shrovetide comes in place,
And cruel fasting days at hand approach with solemn grace:
Then old and young are both as mad, as guests of Bacchus’ feast,
And four days long they tipple square, and feed and never rest.
Down goes the hogs in every place, and puddings everywhere
Do swarm: the Dice are shaked and tossed, and Cards apace they tear:
In every house are shouts and cries, and mirth, and revel rout,
And dainty tables spread, and all be set the guests about:
With sundry plays and Christmas games, and fear and shame away,
The tongue is set at liberty, and hath no kind of stay.
All things are lawful then and done, no pleasure passed by,
That in their minds they can devise, as if they then should die:

But wait!  There’s worse to come – people acting silly!  Oh horror!

The chiefest man is he, and one that most deserves praise,
Among the rest that can find out the fondest kind of plays.
On him they look and gaze upon, and laugh with lusty cheer,
Whom boys do follow, crying fool, and such like other gear.
He in the mean time thinks himself a wondrous worthy man,
Not moved with their words nor cries, do whatsoever they can.
Some sort there are that run with staves, or fight in armor fine,
Or show the people foolish toys, for some small piece of wine.
Each party hath his favorers and faithful friends enough
That ready are to turn themselves, as fortune list to bough.

And dressing up in costume!  Oh the humanity!

But some again the dreadful shape of devils on them take,
And chase such as they meet, and make poor boys for fear to quake.
Some naked run about the streets, their faces hid alone
With visors closed, that so disguised, they might be known of none [and you thought streaking was something new]
Both men and women change their weed, the men in maids’ array,
And wanton wenches dressed like men, do travel by the way,
And to their neighbors houses go, or where it likes them best,
Perhaps unto some ancient friend or old acquainted guest,
Unknown, and speaking but few words, the meat devour they up,
That is before them set, and clean they swinge of every cup.
Some run about the streets attired like Monks, and some like kings,
Accompanied with pomp and guard, and other stately things.

Even worse – dressing and acting like ANIMALS!

Some hatch young fools as hens do eggs with good and speedy luck,
Or as the Goose does use to do, or as the quacking duck.
Some like wild beasts do run abroad in skins that diverse be
Arrayed, and also with loathsome shapes, that dreadful are to see:
They counterfeit both Bears and Wolves, and Lions fierce in fight,
And raging Bulls.  Some play the cranes with wings and stilts upright.
Some like the filthy form of Apes, and some like fools are dressed,
Which best beseems these Papists all, that thus keep Bacchus’ feast.

And then there are other pastimes…

But others bear a turd, that on a Cushion soft they lay,
And one there is that with a slap does keep the flies away.
I would there might another be an officer of those,
Whose room might serve to take away the scent from every nose.
Some other make a man all stuffed with straw or rags within,
Appareled in doublet fair, and hosen passing trim:
Whom as a man that lately died of honest life and fame,
In blanket hid, they bear about, and straightways with the same
They hurl him up into the air, not suffering him to fall,
And this they do at diverse times the City over all.

And (shudder) DANCING!

I show not here their dances yet, with filthy gestures mad,
Nor other wanton sports that on these holidays are had.
There places are where such a hap to come within this door,
Though old acquainted friends they be, or never seen before
And say not first here by your leave, both in and out I go,
They bind their hands behind their backs, nor any difference though
Of man or woman is there made, but Basins ringing great,
Before them do they dance with joy, and sport in every street.

A slight digression into folk belief…

There are that certain prayers have that on the Tuesday fall,
Against the quartan Ague, and the other Fevers all.
But others then sow Onion seed, the greater to be seen,
And Parsley also, and Lettuce both, to have them always green.
Of truth I loathe for to declare the foolish toys and tricks,
That in these days are done by these same popish Catholics:

And back to pastimes with (Merciful Heavens!) SNOWBALL FIGHTS!

If snow lies deep upon the ground, and almost thawing be,
Then fools in number great you shall in every corner see:
For balls of snow they make, and them one at another cast,
Till that the conquered part does yield and run away at last.
No Matron old nor sober man can freely by them come,
At home he must abide that will these wanton fellows shun. [do you get the idea that Naogeorgus was a natural-born Snowball Target?]

And Jingle-Belling all the Way!

Besides the noble men, the rich, and men of high degree,
Lest they with common people should not seem so mad to be,
Their wagons finely framed before, and for this matter meet,
And lusty horse and swift of pace, well trapped from head to feet
They put therein, about whose neck and every place before,
A hundred jingling bells do hang, to make his courage more.
Their wives and children therein set, behind themselves do stand,
Well armed with whips, and holding fast the bridle in their hand,
With all their force throughout the streets and market place they run,
As if some whirlwind mad, or tempest great from skies should come.
As fast as may be from the streets the amazed people fly,
And gives them place while they about do run continually.
Yes, sometimes legs or arms they break, and horse and cart and all
They overthrow, with such a force, they in their course do fall.
Much less they man or child do spare, that meets them in the way,
Nor they content themselves to use this madness all the day:
But even till midnight hold they on, their pastimes for to make,
Whereby they hinder men of sleep, and cause their heads to ache.

Poor Naogeorgus.  Can you imagine what he would write if he was transported to New Orleans today?

Meanwhile, party on, have a masked ball, or a snowball fight, feast one last time.  I put up a recipe for the traditional Fastnachtkuchen here.

Artwork: “Roman Carnival in 1861” found in William Walsh, Curiosities of Popular Customs (1898), p. 180.