Today is Fat Thursday in Poland. (Tłusty Czwartek to the Poles.) A day of over-indulging yourself with greasy, fatty, calorific donuts to your heart’s content. All bakery shops will be stacked mountain-high with them; most work places will be offering platefuls of the melt-in-your-mouth delights to their employees; practically every shop window will have a donut or two or three lurking around in the display somewhere, enticing the unsuspecting passer-by to yet more senseless stuffing.
I’ve known various friends and colleagues of mine who can easily consume three or four or even five donuts during the course of a Fat Thursday. And why? Well, I suppose the theory is so that you can make the most of all epicurean sins before the Carnival season comes to an end, after which you have to prepare yourself for the abstemious season of Lent. Which, for devout Catholics, means giving up something that you love during that entire period. Could be chocolate. Could be meat. Could be alcohol or cigarettes. Could even be sex.
My late father, a lapsed Polish Catholic, did not observe Lent in its forty-day entirety, yet every Good Friday throughout his life he felt compelled to deprive himself of something special: in his particular case, his regular evening pipe and two glasses of red wine with supper. And this was a man who didn’t even believe in the whole convoluted Catholic dogma thingy! Yet still he felt compelled to follow the rules. In this case, abstinence rather than gluttony, so at least better on his heart and stomach.
What is it about these historic traditions, most of them steeped in religion or paganism, that so many of us somehow, magnetically, go along with? I’m not even all that keen on donuts myself, and yet, being a denizen of Poland, I have to force myself to consume at least one of the oily things, come Fat Thursday every year. If I don’t, I somehow feel … hmmm, how can I explain it? Guilty for not having over-indulged? Bizarre.
In England, it’s pancakes instead of donuts. When I still dwelt in that distant Green and Pleasant Land, every Shrove Tuesday I’d don my temporary domestic persona, slip on my apron, fry up a couple of dozen pancakes, serve them for breakfast, lunch and supper, and then feel that I’d done my bit. Oh, and just to clarify – Shrove Tuesday in England is the exact same idea as Fat Thursday in Poland, except it’s on a different day of the week before Lent, heaven knows why. There must be some arcane historical reason for this disparity which has thus far eluded my cache of useless general knowledge.
So here’s the question. Is the reason for all this official, Church-sanctified over-indulgence because we’re all secret gluttons at heart? Or is it because we’re all born with an obedience-gene which commands us to adhere to whatever the Church/parents/boss/masses tell us to do, whether or not we believe it? Whether or not we even like it? Or could it also be because we inherently know that good and bad always go together hand in hand, just like a horse and carriage? Or heaven and hell? Gluttony and abstinence; parties and hangovers; sickness and health; marriage and divorce … you can’t have one without the other, right? Sorry, what was that? Did I just hear some smarmy blogger out there dare to question me about the last example on my list?
However, not to be distracted by said blogger, I’d like to say this. With the whole of the human race basically being akin to a global family of sheep, we go along with the Fat Thursday/Pancake Tuesday tradition of gluttony, just as we go along with all the Christmas feasting and everything else, accepting the fact that living to regret it is just one of the many conundrums of this peculiar thing called Life. And anyway, isn’t it “better to have lived and regretted, than never to have lived at all”? According to Alfred Lord Tennyson.
Actually, I think that should have been “loved and lost” rather than “lived and regretted.” Sorry, Alfred. Can’t get them all spot on.
Oh for heaven’s sake, who cares, anyway? It’s more or less the same thing, isn’t it? Donuts, pancakes, life, love, loss, over-indulgence, divorce, sex, bingeing … all part of the same package.