Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The History of Shrove Tuesday and Pancakes

The History of Shrove Tuesday and Pancakes

In England, based on a traditional Christian holy day. Every year at 12:30 p.m. on Shrove Tuesday, Spitalfields Market in London, runs riot with teams of four people running relays with frying pans and pancakes.

The season immediately before Lent is called Shrovetide. It is a time for confessing sins (shriving) with fewer festivities than the Continental Carnivals. Shrove Tuesday is celebrated as Pancake Day, but apart from the serving of pancakes and occasional pancake races and football matches little else of the Lent-related Shrovetide survived the English Reformation.

When I was a child growing up in England I remember that Shrove Tuesday was a fun day when we ate pancakes and the local schools would have pancake races in the athletic fields. I never connected it with a religious ceremony until I was an adult.

Actually, Shrove Tuesday is the day before Lent starts: the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. It's a day of penitence, to cleanse the soul, and a day of celebration as the last chance to feast before Lent begins.

Shrove Tuesday is sometimes called Pancake Day after the fried batter recipe traditionally eaten on this day, but there's more to Shrove Tuesday than pancakes or taking part in a public pancake race. The pancakes themselves are part of an ancient custom with deeply religious roots.


Shrove Tuesday gets its name from the ritual of shriving that Christians used to undergo in the past. In shriving, a person confesses their sins and receives absolution for them.
When a person receives absolution for their sins, they are forgiven for them and released from the guilt and pain that they have caused them. This tradition is very old. Over 1000 years ago a monk wrote about it in the Anglo-Saxon Ecclesiastical Institutes.

Shrove Tuesday celebrations:

Shrove Tuesday is a day of celebration as well as penitence, because it's the last day before Lent a time of abstinence, of giving things up. So Shrove Tuesday is the last chance to indulge yourself, and to use up the foods that aren't allowed in Lent. Giving up foods: but not wasting them.

The need to eat up the fats gave rise to the French name Mardi Gras ('fat Tuesday'). Pancakes became associated with Shrove Tuesday as they were a dish that could use up all the eggs, fats and milk in the house with just the addition of flour.

The origin of pancake racing:

Pancake races are thought to have begun in 1445. History recalls that a woman had lost track of the time on Shrove Tuesday, and was busy cooking pancakes in her kitchen.
Suddenly she heard the church bell ringing to call the faithful to church for confession. The woman raced out of her house and ran all the way to church; still holding her frying pan and wearing her apron.

Going for gold in the pancake Olympics:

One of the most famous pancake races is held at Olney in Buckinghamshire over a 415 yard course. The rules are strict; contestants have to toss their pancake at both the start and the finish, as well as wearing an apron and a scarf. The race is followed by a church service.
Since 1950 Olney has competed with Liberal in Kansas, which holds an identical race, to see which town can produce the fastest competitor. (Pictured above)


According to Christian beliefs, Lent commemorates Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness, and observant Christians mark this period by fasting. So Shrove Tuesday was cleverly invented to use up the ingredients that were given up for Lent - milk, butter and, particularly, eggs - which may not be eaten again until Easter.

Customs and celebrations:

In other parts of the world, Shrove Tuesday is marked by quite different celebrations. In New Orleans, and other parts of the United States, for example, it's celebrated with the Mardi Gras, and in Rio de Janeiro with the equally raucous carnival.

So, if you are attending local Mardi Gras celebrations have fun tonight!

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