Tomorrow Is Ash Wednesday

Pączki from Familiar Bakery in Chicago

Which means that today is Fat Tuesday.

I’ve written before about how, since moving to Chicago, my family has wholeheartedly embraced the Chicago-by-way-of-Poland Fat Tuesday tradition of Pączki Day. And, in fact, I’m sitting at home[fn1] with six pączki in a box on my counter, with however many more my wife is bringing home after work (she was going to hit at least two Polish bakeries on the way to and from work).

But I’m not posting this to boast about how many pączki I’m going to eat today (or, at least, I’m not posting this solely to boast about how many I’m going to eat); rather, I spent this morning thinking about the tension in Christianity between asceticism and consumption.

A lot of Christianity—and a lot of Mormonism—calls for some degree of self-deprivation. We fast the first Sunday of every month and we consecrate our fast and our money to helping those who need help. And tomorrow marks the beginning of Lent, an extended, important, and, on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday at least, obligatory fast in many Christian traditions.

But today is about consumption. It’s about enjoying the bounties that the world has to offer. Here in Chicago, that means pączki. In England, it’s pancakes.[fn2]

And the relevant consumption is not just food: for example, in New Orleans, it means consuming costumes and dance and some of my favorite music in the whole world.

This tension isn’t something new, invented with the advent of frying and Brass Bands. It goes back all the way to the New Testament. In Matt. 11:18-19, Jesus says:

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners.

So which is it? Well, both, I assume. We focus a lot on the John side of things in our church rhetoric. And I suspect that many of us live the Son of man side of things in our personal lives. And they’re both okay! And we should do both! We fast, yes, but we also celebrate. We give generously, but we also consume the bounties we’ve been blessed with.

And the juxtaposition of Fat Tuesday and Lent reminds us of these two sides of our eternal identity: the aesthete and the materialist. How do we balance the two? That, I believe, is one thing we’re called to figure out.

Also, even though I’m in Chicago, not New Orleans, I thought I’d celebrate the many bounties and blessings we have by recording a version of the New Orleans classic, “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

[fn1] At home because this week is Loyola’s Spring Break and that, combined with a continuing lingering worldwide pandemic, means I’m working from home today.

[fn2] I actually made pancakes for breakfast, not deliberately in celebration of Shrove Tuesday because, in the rush to get kids fed before they left for school, I didn’t even think about the fact that it was Pancake Day in some parts of the world.


  1. John Mansfield says:

    Thank you for articulating this. Lent’s other juxtaposition is with Easter, and I suppose Easter is even more joyous for those who experience Lent.

  2. Thanks John. That’s an important insight!

  3. State offices in Louisiana (and most businesses south of the I-10 corridor) are closed today. Nobody worked yesterday, either. New Orleans proper has about 18 major parades between last Wednesday and today, but the season starts on 1/6 and ramps up slowly (or quickly, depending on when Ash Wednesday starts) for weeks. Left Field and I are empty nesters, so we held off on buying king cake until Saturday, which was six whole weeks after the start of king cake season. And then I bought another on Sunday, because Saturday’s was raspberry+cream cheese, and empty nest or no empty nest, it went fast.
    I am not sure if this is true, but I think part of the festivities includes the police coming through and pretending to close everything down in the Quarter at midnight. There’s really no such thing as closing time here, but if true, that’s a fun bit of street theatre.

  4. Thanks Ann! Technically, Poland celebrates Fat Thursday, and my wife has plans on doing Pączki Day then next year (because while Chicago focuses on Tuesday, pączki are available both) so that we can do King Cake on Fat Tuesday.

    I mean, we could technically do it today but, given that we’ll probably each eat at least three pączki today, we probably don’t need any more fat or sugar.

  5. nobody, really says:

    John Mansfield: Easter? What’s that? Haven’t seen *that* recognized in church for a long time.

  6. Love Paczki as part of our Chicago traditions. We definitely did not take Delightful Pastries recommendation to not buy paczki on Tuesday but since they make them year round we’re going back for more this weekend when the crowds are gone. For the record, I ate 2 today because the girls devoured the rest in our house.

    For me food traditions are a great way to bond with other religions during their holy days and seasons of celebration. I love asking about home recipes, special meals and the family / faith community bonds built around them.

  7. I have two confessions: First, I love Krapfen (well, a particular kind by a particular baker), Austria’s version of the filled donut. Second, I don’t really figure anything out. I mostly muddle along, consuming to my heart’s desire until I run into the limits of my resources.

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