On Wednesdays, I get to bring out my alter ego. For most Wednesdays over the past eleven years, I get to be a big kid. I have been known for most of that time amongst the other kids as “Poppy”, a name that I love not just because the flower is one of my favourites (bright, a bit unruly, and one of the first to happily signal summer is coming), It was also the name of one of the coolest grown-ups I knew when I was a kid. My Poppy had long red hair and she was a sort of princess in my mind – the peasant skirts, the hippie music that seemed to follow her and the magical smile and twinkle in her eye were all part of that persona. I don’t get to be that much of a free spirit, but the blue vest adorned with crests and pins all around a gigantic trefoil on my back do give me some renown. You see, I am a Girl Guide leader.
Currently, I am working with Sparks, the tiniest of girls allowed into the organization. We have 22 little sprites in our unit, run with wonderful humour and an incredible sense of organization by my fellow leader, mentor and friend of those eleven years, “Sparkle” (aptly named, don’t you think?).
It’s a wonderful experience to share in the adventures of young girls, and ones this small are especially enthusiastic – about everything. It’s contagious.
This week we are learning about Canada, and so I bamboozled my fantastic husband to help me represent Quebec at one of our activity stations. We only have ten minutes out of an hour’s meeting to wow them with something memorable, so what to do?? Well, it’s not that tough – we will tell them about Bonhomme and the Quebec Carnival, and we will feed them maple taffy on fresh snow, called “tire sur neige” in Quebec. How cool is that?! We are going on a tobogganing camp in a couple of weeks, so this is sure to put them right in the spirit of winter. Thankfully, at this age, they don’t seem to feel the cold and so being out in the minus twenty or so weather will just be an adventure. Meanwhile, I’m digging out all my woollies to take to camp!
You know what they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. I could post historic photos of sap being gathered. I wish my hubby had pictures of when he was young and on the horse-drawn wagons at his uncle’s sugar shack. But we’ll have to make do with the sticky fingers and gooey taffy to give you the general idea of the fun we had. Some may say it’s bad to give kids sugar so close to bedtime, sending them home all hyped up to their weary parents. Sorry folks, I will selfishly say that I enjoy every minute and don’t intend to stop having fun with my little Spark pals anytime soon. I hope they will remember me with the same kind of mischievous twinkle as I do the Poppy of my childhood.
Did you know that’s what “Mardi Gras” meant? Yup, the name was pretty straight-forward; the day before Ash Wednesday is traditionally the last day to binge on all the rich foods and other excesses you would be giving up for Lent. It is a day to consider in what areas of our life we might need to improve, and how better to do that than over a great meal? While I am not a member of a congregation that takes on this traditional belief, I don’t mind the opportunity to enjoy the fun of it.
I’m going out for pancakes to celebrate Fat Tuesday. This is such a traditional food for the day that some call it Pancake Tuesday. In England, there is a town that has even held a pancake race since 1445! It’s in honour of a parishioner who apparently lost track of time and ran out her door with her pan of pancakes in her hand when the church bell rang to signal the service starting. Today contestants dress up like housewives in aprons and kerchiefs, and must carry their pan (complete with pancake) over a 415 yard course through town. They even have to flip their pancake at the start and finish of the race!
In Iceland, my heritage on my father’s side of the family, the day is called “Sprengidagur”, which translates as Bursting Day (don’t you love the sense of humour?) Salted meat and peas were the traditional fare, but I think I would have preferred Icelandic pancakes, Ponnokukur.
Despite my lightheartedness at describing these activities, my aim is not to belittle the serious religious custom that is at the core of Shrove Tuesday. “Shrove” is the past tense of the English verb shrive which was to obtain absolution for one’s sins through confession. Your last chance to be shriven was on Shrove Tuesday, as Lent begins the next day and penance would start.
Similarly, Carnival (spelled in various ways in different languages) comes from the Latin carne levare, meaning to take away meat, a common practice during Lent. The festivities of Carnival – dressing up, dancing, indulging in rich foods and other decadent pastimes – were other ways of celebrating the excess before Lent. The masquerade, where people covered their identities with a mask, was said to sometimes offer a chance for lovers to be together in public. This is perhaps the culmination of all things excessive, and is a famous part of the Carnevale in Venice, Italy.
Rich foods like donuts and pancakes have been customary on this day as they were a good way to use many of the rich foods in the pantry before Lent began, like eggs and milk and sugar.
It strikes me that the rich foods of winter start to become less popular about this time of year even in secular circles, so even those without religious background can look upon this day as an opportunity to reflect on the coming of the lighter and often healthier fare of spring and summer.
Whatever you do in the coming weeks, as the year edges on and spring comes ever closer, I hope you will have a chance to reflect on how you can make the most of it and how you can enjoy your blessings. I think that might be the simple truth of this ancient holiday.