although little known in the uk, carnival is an important festival celebrated in western christian countries, especially in areas with a large catholic population. it is thought to have evolved from a pagan festival - a time to drive out the winter spirits to make way for spring’s arrival. originally it was the last opportunity to feast on the remaining stores of winter food such as lard, butter and meat, ahead of the long wait for spring produce.
carnival is a time of fun and excess before lent. people dress up in costumes and masks, party and parade on the streets. it is a time to eat, dance, party, and go wild, before the observation of lent when fasting and sobriety takes over.
brazil celebrates carnival with its world famous ‘rio carnival’ - a massive colourful street parade with music and dancing, and venice is famous for its lavish parties and elaborate masks. in spain, schools allow children to dress up and families come out onto the streets, for parades and street parties. it is a very convivial time.
shrove tuesday, or ‘pancake day’, is the last day before lent and coincides with the end of carnival. traditionally pancakes are eaten to use up rich, indulgent foods such as milk and eggs before the forty days of lent.
this year shrove tuesday is february 28th and lent begins on march 1st. we like to make masks at home with the children and we eat a lot of pancakes for tea as we discuss what each of us is going to give up until easter. pancakes are so simple to make (best to prepare the mixture in advance) and everyone takes turns flipping their own. we try chocolate spread, jam and honey but in the end the favourite is usually the classic - lemon with a liberal sprinkling of sugar.