Thursday, February 23, 2006


Tomorrow night is one of the best parties of the year: Carnevale (literally 'farewell, meat'). Instituted a good 10 years ago, we hold it the weekend before Ash Wednesday. One last chance to indulge before the disciplines of Lent.

In the church calendar the Carnevale season begins on January 6, which is also the 12th day of Christmas, and runs until Ash Wednesday. Traditionally, this was the time for lots of parties and dancing because everything fun had to go in Lent. The quality of Lent, while still penitential, is no longer so restrictive and harsh so the notion of a season for indulgence has disappeared outside of Rio and New Orleans. But that's enough church history for today.

This is a big feast for us. We gather our nearest and dearest. There will be no less than 5 courses, possibly 6 and that doesn't count at least one amuse-bouche . (I'm still working on the menu). This is not a meal for the faint of heart nor anyone with a heart condition as it is not about moderation. We have 6 weeks of Lent for that. Back in the day rich foods were served during Carnevale because you had to use up all your eggs and butter as there was no way to keep it fresh during Lent, when all meat products were forbidden. So the menu is all about what will taste amazing, calories and cholesterol be damned. One year I used fully 3 pounds of butter in preparing the meal. That record still stands but I try my best. There is always a leg of lamb for dinner, which actually has semi-religious connotations: Jesus as the Paschal Lamb, the sacrifice. Dessert is always chocolate.

The feasting goes on for hours. Wine flows. We wear masks and strings of gold, green and purple beads (which we just hand one has to humiliate themselves to get them). But, because Lent is coming and we're good little Catholics, we also have a prayer time. After the meal but before dessert we take a time out to talk about what everyone is hoping to accomplish in Lent. We're big on not just giving up something for it's own sake, but what will be replacing that habit or activity. Because it's all about the journey and finding those places in ourselves that need to grow or change to become more like Christ. Then we pull names from a hat and everyone at the party leaves with a secret prayer partner, someone who will be praying for them and their stated intentions throughout Lent. I make up little sheets of stationary and envelopes and in Holy Week everyone sends off a reveal letter. It might sound a little corny, but this has become one of the most important times in all our lives throughout the year.

But we're only serious for a while. Then it's all about the chocolate, "smokin' 'em if you got 'em" and usually a tutorial from The Spouse for someone who has expressed an interest in single malts. Then everyone toddles off, a purple votive clutched in their hands, to rest up for the 6 weeks of Lent. At that moment, stuffed to the gills and feeling very sentimental about the wonderful people in our lives, I wander into the kitchen, look at the stripped lamb bone and the piles of dishes on the counter, turn heels and go straight to bed. Do the dishes first, indeed.



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