Mardi Gras - Shrove Tuesday - Fat Tuesday - Pancake Day
All of these are names for tomorrow, the day before what many Christians call "Ash Wednesday". For many (but not all) people within the Christian tradition, Wednesday will mark the beginning of a period known as "Lent". Lent ends on Easter Sunday. This advance-of-Easter time beginning tomorrow is meant to be a more solemn and meditative time than other periods on the liturgical calendar. Lent for some may include more church attending, the giving up of activities or foods or behavior that one enjoys (as an offering in thanks for the sacrifice of Christ), or the addition of something that adds to the faith journey of a person, increased prayers and meditation. It is a generally more contemplative time for those who observe it.
In anticipation of that somber period, various traditions provide for a day of certain enjoyable excesses on the day before Ash Wednesday. As many traditional observers "give up" a certain food for Lent, the excesses tend to be culinary.
Most people know about Mardi Gras as the most famous pre-Lenten celebration.
In French, "Mardi Gras" literally means "Fat Tuesday," which is thought to have come from the ancient Pagan custom of parading a fat ox through the town streets, and is the obvious reference to rich foods before a fasting time.
Pancakes are a customary feast on this day in some cultures because they are so rich and indulgent, in contrast to the more austere menus of Lent. Hence the name "Pancake Tuesday".
"Shrove Tuesday" comes from the Anglo-Saxon term "to shrive" which refers to confessing and obtaining absolution, an act expected of the faithful on that day as a way to begin Lent with a "clean slate".
In Iceland and parts of Scandanavia, salt meat and peas or ham and peas are eaten on what Icelanders call "Bursting Day".
Some cultures -- the Pennsylvania Dutch, Germans, Lithuanians, Polish, Austrians -- eat special and different sorts of doughnuts for this day.
In Finland it is considered good fortune to have ones hair cut today as it will grow back thicker and more lush.
If you observe this day tomorrow, my hope is that all of your excesses are joyful ones.