Feb 21, 2023 - News

Here's why Fat Tuesday is relatively subdued in Utah

Illustration of the Axios "A" wearing a Mardi Gras mask.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

It's Mardi Gras! Laissez les bon temps rouler! (Let the good times roll!)

  • Or not, whatever. We are in Utah after all — a state where Fat Tuesday festivities are on the thin side.

What's happening: Fat Tuesday, or Shrove Tuesday, is a big holiday in much of Christianity, from Louisiana's bead-draped parades, to the famed Carnival celebrations of Rio de Janeiro and Venice, to paczki chow-downs in eastern Europe and the Rust Belt.

  • But the holiday doesn't get much attention in Utah, mainly because it's not observed in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Details: Fat Tuesday is the day before Lent — the 40-day lead-up to Easter, when many Christians reflect on sacrifice and give up something they enjoy to mark the somber season before Good Friday.

  • Historically, churches called on members to give up rich foods, so the day before Lent was the last chance to enjoy sugar, lard and red meat — hence "Fat Tuesday."

Flashback: But not all churches observe Lent or Fat Tuesday, which goes back to the Reformation in England, explained Matthew Bowman, a history and religion professor who chairs the Mormon studies program at Claremont Graduate University in California.

  • Puritans there saw religious holidays as non-Biblical and indulgent, Bowman told Axios — and even Christmas and Easter were off-limits for a long time.

Context: Mormonism is rooted in the Puritan tradition of America's Northeast — home to church founder Joseph Smith, Bowman noted.

  • That meant Utah's pioneers didn't observe all the holidays and church seasons celebrated in areas settled by Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and Orthodox communities.

What they're saying: "American culture generally is really influenced by Puritanism, and Americans tend to think 'respectable' religion … is somber and plain and simple," Bowman said. "I think the LDS Church is very steeped in that way of thinking about middle-class respectability in its Puritan heritage."

Why it matters: Some religious celebrations that are huge in other parts of the world — Advent, Palm Sunday, Epiphany — are less known to many Utahns.

  • That can lead to culture clashes, like a Davis County teacher in 2019 forcing a Catholic boy to wash an Ash Wednesday cross off his forehead on the first day of Lent.
  • Aaaand... you might not find the party you're expecting today if you're new here.

Yes, but: We've come a long way since Erin's fruitless quest for Fat Tuesday baked goods nearly a decade ago.

The bottom line: You don't have to be the only one in town letting the good times roll!


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