Orthodox and Catholics around the world are preparing for Great Lent. Christian nations like to have lots of food and fun before a long period of abstinence. On this occasion, carnivals and festivities are held in different countries. These days are marked with fancy costumes and sumptuous feasts, but it is important to remember that there is repentance ahead.
In 2011, Christians around the world celebrate Easter on the same day - April 24. The Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestants will celebrate the Resurrection of Christ together. Prior to Easter holiday the believers will follow Lent - the time of fervent prayers and limiting themselves in carnal desires.
Of course, one must be properly prepared for this spiritual deed. Both in the West and the East preparation for Lent involves not only the special church services and consumer preparation for abstinence. Christians complete the winter cycle of holidays associated with the coming of the Savior into the world - Christmas, Epiphany, Candlemas. Soon the world will freeze in anticipation of the sacrifice of the Son of God. But for now, on the border of winter and spring, people rejoice, as the apostles rejoiced at the border of the old and new times. Christ will soon leave to do one thing for which He came into the world, but now he is still walking the hills of Palestine with his students. Therefore, preparing to give up meat or adult entertainment in the days before Lent, Christians celebrate the same thing, although in Russia the festivities are called Shrovetide, and in the West - Carnival or Mardi Gras.
In Russia, the Great Lent is preceded by three weeks of special worship. The three weeks before the beginning of Lent on Sunday remind people of the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee that says that sincere repentance of a sin is more important than flashy righteousness. In the following week, even according to the strictest statute, it is allowed to eat meat every day, including generally meatless Wednesdays and Fridays. For the next two weeks the parable of the prodigal son is remembered - that each person, no matter how much they have sinned, may return to the Father. After that comes the usual "colorful" week with meatless Wednesdays and Fridays. Finally, the week before Lent is a remembrance of the Judgment Day, as well as the expulsion of Adam and Eve. Forefather and mother leave the paradise, and succeeding generations are doomed to death until Christ atones for the sins of the people in his first coming and grants eternal life to those who accepted him in the second. This day of the calendar cycle (in 2011 - February27) is the last time one can eat meat before the coming Lent.
Next, just before Shrove Sunday, followed by proper Lent, begins an unusual week - "cheese" week, or Shrovetide. According to the calendar, on these days one is not allowed to eat meat, but can have milk, eggs, and fish. Same as in ancient times, today people get together on Shrovetide. They go visit relatives, they forgive each other grievances. In preparation for the days when they will have to fulfill the first commandment of Christ - to love God, people should not forget about the second one - to love your neighbor as yourself.
Modern people associate Shrovetide with pancakes and folk festivals. It is often assumed that the popular traditions accompanying these days are the remnants of the Slavic paganism, a certain solar cult. Indeed, many pagan rituals were adapted by Christianity. Yet, paganism itself, in the meaning of the beliefs of Russians before the acceptance of Christ contained not only idolatry, but also the memory of the One Creator. Spring replaces winter, and the New Testament comes in place of Old Testament.
The traditions of Western Europe convince us of the fact that Carnival is not unique to the Slavic culture. Festivities in the West are no less grand than in Russia. Now the word "carnival" means any festivities, but originally it was the name of the spring festival before Lent in medieval Italy. The famous carnivals in Venice and Rio de Janeiro are the echoes of those Italian celebrations. The Latin "carne vale!" means "Farewell, meat!" Now the celebrations in Catholic countries are usually called Mardi Gras ("Fat Tuesday" in French). Typically, this festival is also associated with noisy celebrations and dancing followed by a meal where pancakes are one of the major treats.
It would not be correct to assume that Russia is celebrating for entire week, while the West only celebrates on Tuesday. In the southern states of the U.S. the festivities before Lent start on January 6. "Tuesday" in the name of the holiday is associated with different ways of calculating the duration of Lent. In the Catholic tradition Lent begins two days later than in the Orthodox tradition, on a Wednesday instead of a Monday ("Ash Wednesday"). This means that the last day before Lent is not "Forgiveness Sunday" but "Fat Tuesday" (in 2011 - March 8).
However, the traditions of preparation for Lent differ not only between East and West, but also from country to country. For example, in Greece, the culmination of a three-week holiday "apokries" is on Thursday of the week preceding Lent (in 2011 - February 24). This day is called "the day of roasted meat." During Shrovetide week the Greeks eat pancakes instead of macaroni and cheese. Armenians call these days "Boone Barekendan" ("joy of life" or "remembrance of paradise"). Their national food in the days before the Lent is curdled sour milk and milk porridge.
Those who wish to celebrate the upcoming holidays have plenty of options. Shrovetide festivities will be held in Moscow and other Russian cities. If you want to not just eat pancakes and drink honey mash, but to continue the traditions of our ancestors, do not forget that the Carnival ends on Forgiveness Sunday. In seven weeks of Lent comes the most important holiday of all Christians - Resurrection of the Lord.