By Julie Provost

In the Christian tradition, Lent is the 40 days of somber repentance and self-deprivation leading up to Easter. The first day of Lent is called Ash Wednesday by Christians around the world. But the day before it? It’s taken on a cultural life of its own. Depending on where you live, it’s called something different and it’s celebrated in a uniquely local way. As a military family, even if you’re not Christian or do not celebrate Lent, you’ll want to see what’s happening at your current station. Who knows. . . you might get a free shot, doughnut, or pancake out of it!

If you’re stationed in England

Jamie Oliver's One-cup pancakes with blueberries from Flickr via Wylio
© 2015 Martin Cooper, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Shrove Tuesday is important in England and often called, Pancake Day.  Shrove Tuesday is the last day to use up your eggs and fats before the Lenten fast.

Pancakes are a great way to use up those ingredients and thus the name Pancake Day came to be. A British pancake is a thin, flat cake made of batter and cooked in a frying pan. They’re more than just tasty, they’re symbolic too. According to tradition, the eggs represent creation, the flour represents the staff of life, salt is wholesomeness, and milk is purity.

If you are stationed in England, make sure to check out a pancake race. The most famous of these takes places in Olney in Buckinghamshire. In 1445, a woman there heard the shriving bell when she was making pancakes and ran to the church in her apron while still holding on to her frying pan. In the pancake races, you will find people in fancy dresses racing down the streets, tossing pancakes in frying pans.

If you’re stationed in Germany

NeikergnFasching2015-4830 from Flickr via Wylio
© 2015 Detlef Chen, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Fasching is a time of feasting, breaking the rules, poking fun of those who make the rules, and making up your own rules. This comes from the medieval word vaschnc and relates to the fasting period of Lent. Fasching starts on the 11th day of the 11th month at 11:11 and ends the stroke of midnight on Fat Tuesday.

It stems from medieval times when people lived under harsh rules. It was a time for them to make fun of those in power and enjoy life before fasting began. That tradition continues to this day. In many cities, there will be a mock government set up of 11 fools to oversee the pageantry. A prince and princess are chosen to rule over the events. The costumes and masks allow the everyday people to mock their kings and princes without fear of punishment.

While you are in Germany, you will probably find a Fasching parade in your town or village. A lot of the schools involve the children, and people dress up in costumes and masks. Candy is handed out to children and often, alcohol is handed out to adults.

If you’re stationed in Louisiana

Fat Tuesday_Mardi Gras Indians_4 from Flickr via Wylio
© 2012 Derek Bridges, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

You don’t have to be stationed near New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras or the Carnival season, but if you are, you will be in for a treat. You will find a lot of celebrations in other French (or Southern) cities nationwide. You might even find parties or parades in other places around the United States. . .  and even Disneyland decorates in their New Orleans Square.

The first Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans was in 1837. The parades start a few weeks before Ash Wednesday; you can visit and go to as many of them as you would like. Most are actually family-friendly, although some are not. You will want to bring a bag to collect all the beads, toys, and stuffed animals thrown from floats.

Don’t miss the first line (brass bands) and the second line (those who follow behind dancing and enjoying the music). It’s a New Orleans tradition. You’ll also want to grab some kings cake and seek out the Indians, a Mardi Gras staple from the African American New Orleans community.

If you’re stationed in Spain

2017-02-25 21-03-47 - 0544 from Flickr via Wylio
© 2017 Enrique Freire, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Spain celebrates Carnival with vibrant costumes and masks, too. This time of celebration allows people to dress up and change their identity, hoping to feel a bit freer.

During Carnival it will seem like no one is sleeping; there will be dancing and music in the street and costumes everywhere. You will be just eight miles from Cadiz if you are stationed in Rota. . . this city goes all out for Carnival. Music defines the celebrations in Cadiz and you will find musical groups stationed in the plazas or in open areas. Most of the songs are satirical and full of humor.

The politicians, clergy and celebrities are all cheerfully mocked and costumes focus on cleverness and wit. You can also find street theater and daily fireworks. You will find Carnival celebrations in Sitges, Tenerife, and other cities in Spain. If you want a wild Carnival experience, visit the bigger cities, like Barcelona and Madrid.

If you’re stationed in Pennsylvania

Here’s how military families are celebrating Mardi Gras all over the world
© 2015 Ted Van Pelt, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Pennsylvania takes a cue from their German roots. You won’t find fasching parades here, but you will find doughnuts. Areas with Pennsylvania Dutch heritage celebrate Fasctnacht Day instead of Fat Tuesday. Churches, civic organizations, or individuals will make gigantic doughnuts (often out of potato flour) that are glazed, plain, or rolled in sugar to use up all of the rich ingredients for Lent.

If you’re stationed in Italy

Tuchini Battle of Oranges - Battaglia delle Arance 2007 - Ivrea from Flickr via Wylio
© 2007 Giò-S.p.o.t.s., Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

The celebrations kick off the Thursday (Giovedi Grosso) before Fat Tuesday (Martedi Grosso). You’ll find parades and celebrations in most towns; however, if you really want a singular experience, take in the Battle of Oranges in Ivrea. It’s Italy’s largest food fight where participants throw (you guessed it) oranges at each other to reenact a historical uprising against a criminal tyrant.

If you’re stationed in Belgium

Gilles with brooms from Flickr via Wylio
© 2016 Andrea Kirkby, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

Ivrea isn’t the only town in the world that celebrates Fat Tuesday with oranges. Participants in Binche, Belgium throw citrus to each other– it’s not a food fight– and dance with brooms in their revelry.

If you’re stationed in Arkansas

Natural Bridge from Flickr via Wylio
© 2009 The DLC, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

What started in 2006 by a man who was a Katrina refugee from New Orleans as a one-car parade has become a month-long celebration in Eureka Springs.

If you’re stationed in the Midwest

Paczki Day! from Flickr via Wylio
© 2011 colourized, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

Areas with Polish immigrant influence celebrate Paczki Day. Paczkis are Polish baked goods that– like Shrove Tuesday pancakes and Fasctnacht Day fasctnachts — use up all of the “sinful” ingredients in a kitchen. Very similar to doughnuts, paczkis sometimes have a small amount of grain alcohol mixed into the batter. They can also be filled and are often glazed or sugared. In places like Chicago and Detroit, lines for paczkis can be long at bakeries, so get there early . . . or order them ahead of time.

Julie Provost is an associate editor at Military One Click and a National Guard spouse. She can be reached at