Why Fat Tuesday Survives in Our Secular, Commercial Society

The Boozy, Anachronistic Feast Is an Enduring Tie to the Cycles of Plenty and Want

To imbibe the heart and soul of the holiday called Shrove Tuesday—or Carnival, or Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday—you could head to Rio or Bourbon Street. Or you could dig into some of the lesser-known traditions of the holiday, those that have survived in northern Europe for half a millennium or more.

However you celebrate, in 2016, Shrove Tuesday can seem anachronistic. It marks a last day of indulgence before the austerity of the Lenten season—six weeks of repentance and atonement to prepare for Easter in Christian traditions. In a world …