Mirror of Zen Blog

Fat, Greasy Thursday

Fettdonnerstag/Schmotziger Donnerstag (Fat/Greasy Thursday), Schmutziger Donnerstag (looks like “Dirty” Thursday, but is just a variation of Schmotziger Donnerstag), Unsinniger Donnerstag (Nonsensical Thursday), Weiberfastnacht/Altweiberfastnacht ([Old] Women’s Fasching)

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Fight Between Carnival and Lent (1559). A copy of this painting hung in my childhood home. I could spend hours and hours in Breughel’s world. This painting turned me into a lifelong fan of his work, and I truly believe that my many trips to the Netherlands were a karmic magnetic pull implanted in my brain by the many hours I absorbed his scenes.

In any other year, for someone on the ketogenic program, today could be considered a High Holy Day.

Today is Thursday, February 11. It is the last day of the Lunar calendar, this year. It is also Fettdonnerstag/Schmotziger Donnerstag (Fat/Greasy Thursday), which marks the beginning of the conclusion of Fasching — in other places known as “Carnival” or Mardi Gras celebrations leading up to Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the fasting period which concludes with Easter. In non-pandemic, today would be marked with lots of drinking and partying — days-long of it! — across Bavaria, with costume parades and all manner of public revelry and licentiousness. (During my first year in Europe from Asia, and having no idea or experience of this tradition, I was gifted a costume by one of my German students. “Just wear this, Sunim — don’t ask any questions!” It was a ready-made Catholic-nun outfit! So, dressed up as a one of my grade-school tormenters during my first Munich Fasching celebration, I partied quite late into the night and committed all manner of public sin. No doubt it was intended as a curative exorcism against the brutal beatings I received at the hands of one psychotic nun in Catholic grammar school in New Jersey, but that is another story. I made her profession proud that night! One note: drunk Bavarian Catholics seem to get a real charge out of buying an endless supply of free shots of tequila for a naughty nun, so the costume basically pays for itself.)

But the history of this Fasching/Carnival has deep folk roots here in Bavaria, as it does throughout Catholic Europe. I was such a privilege to witness this living tradition when I first plopped back into the West from the stern atmosphere of traditional Asia temple life!

“The word Fasching dates back to the 13th century and is derived from the Germanic word vaschanc or vaschang, in modern German: Fastenschank = the last serving of alcoholic beverages before Lent. In olden times the 40-day Lenten period of fasting was strictly observed. People refrained from drinking alcohol or eating meat, milk products and eggs. The English word “fast” (to refrain from eating) is related to German fasten.

Karneval, on the other hand, is a newer, much more recent (17th century), Latin-based word borrowed from French and Italian. The true origin of the word is uncertain, but it probably comes from Latin carne levare (“away with meat”) > carnelevale > Karneval or Carnival. In earlier times, the German word was even written with a C rather than today’s K-spelling. (Some German carnival associations still use the Carneval spelling in their names.)

“The third common term for carnival in German, Fastnacht, refers to the Swabian-Alemannic carnival, which differs in some ways from Fasching and Karneval, and is found in Baden-Württemberg, Franconia (northern Bavaria), Hesse and much of Switzerland. Although this word looks like it comes from the German for the “eve of Lent,” in fact it is based on the Old German word fasen (“to be foolish, silly, wild”). Thus the word, sometimes spelled Fasnacht (without the t) actually means something like “night of being wild and foolish.”


One of the reasons for returning to Europe from Asia — and not to the States — could plausibly be credited to that very Bruegel painting (as well as his winter scenes, ice skating on the frozen canals of the Low Countries). The mad revelry, the barely-hidden licentiousness, the haunting spirituality, the earthy connectedness of my European ancestors with their pre-Christian souls — all of this drew me back, and keeps me here. It is impossible to imagine ever feeling any connection whatsoever with anything having this authenticity anywhere in my experience of America. Sinning, here, is an art raised quite beyond the moralism and superficiality of a culture so young in its expressions. I’ve made my stake here, to die on this continent, as I’d always been drawn to come here, from as early as I could remember.

To celebrate Fat, Greasy Thursday til death is a ketogenic’s dream.

More cool Bruegel porn:

Winter scenes by Pieter Bruegel

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