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img_5921When I was growing up, the Christmas tree never came down before Little Christmas. Little Christmas is also known as the feast of the Epiphany. Epiphany is when the three kings arrived to visit the baby Jesus. Do you know the names of these kings? Not something that I remembered learning during my Catholic school education, but their names were evidently believed to be Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar. Little Christmas also marks the end of the 12 days of Christmas which run from December 25th through January 5th. It is the traditional end of the Christmas season and I guess that is where the tradition of “de-Christmassing” the house came from in my family. Taking the decorations down before that date is considered to be bad luck in some countries.

In Ireland, Little Christmas or January 6th is known as Nollaig na mBan or Women’s Christmas since, particularly in Cork and Kerry (happens to be where our families were from), it is the day that the Irish men take over the household duties and watch the children so the women can go out and celebrate with friends and other female family, marking the end of their duties as hostesses in charge of the holiday visitors.

In Italy, they celebrate Epifania, which is a holiday where Italian children would put out stockings and find gifts from La Befana, an old woman who is said to deliver gifts to children on the Epiphany. She is said to sweep the floors when she arrives, to sweep out the problems of the old year. Italian children leave her a glass of wine and a bite to eat  a better deal some would say than Santa has going for him).

So, see no matter which side of the family you look to for me (Irish or Italian)  Little Christmas has significance. There is another reason the day has special meaning in our family.

January 6th marked my dad’s brother, my uncle’s birthday. Here’s a picture that my brother recently found of my dad (on the left) with my uncle Eddie (on the right). Both of them have left us (too soon) but I can never think of Little Christmas without also thinking of him. Somewhere, I am sure the both of them are smiling down on us. They are both dearly missed.

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Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras, is the day before the lenten season of fasting and abstinence begins. It is the culmination of the festival of Carnivale which begins with the celebration of the Epiphany which occurs twelve days after Christmas. In celebration of the last day before Lent, most people go all out with a special meal or in the case of a lot of people, a dinner of pancakes since Fat Tuesday is also known in parts of the world as Pancake Day. The reason being that people traditionally would use the last day before the lenten season to use up all their fat, eggs and dairy by making pancakes before Ash Wednesday to clean the cupboards, so to speak, of the rich and fattening foods that weren’t permitted during the fasting period.

We didn’t have pancakes for dinner (although that would have also been a good idea) instead, we had just about as fat a meal as one could get at the men’s requests– Philly Cheesesteak Sloppy Joes with a provolone cheese sauce  on kaiser buns and scalloped potatoes au gratin.

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This is my trusty mandoline which is probably as old as at least one of the boys and is kept safe and sound in its cardboard box (together with its VHS instructional tape (give you an idea of how old it really is?) in the closet and is taken out for french fries, thinly sliced cucumber salad and for these potatoes. It made the work of thinly slicing four  pounds of potatoes a heck of lot easier — otherwise I might not be writing this now, but rather I might still be slicing potatoes.

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We had salad and I had steamed escarole too, just because we needed something green and relatively healthy.

Dessert will be double dark chocolate brownies that just got taken out of the oven instead of the King cake that a lot of people enjoy.

However you choose to celebrate — Happy Mardi Gras!

Evilwife on the move

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