If you need a sure sign that Spring is here or not far away, Shrove Tuesday – or ‘Pancake Day’, is it.
Whilst for many today means gorging out on pancakes with a multitude of fillings, here’s some bits and pieces about Shrove Tuesday which you may not know.
- For starters, Shrove Tuesday (also known as Shrovetide Tuesday, Pancake Tuesday and Pancake Day) is the day preceding Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Shrove Tuesday, a moveable feast, is determined by Easter.
It is seen as a day of penitence, to clean the soul, and a day of celebration as the last chance to feast before Lent begins.
- The expression “Shrove Tuesday” comes from the word shrive, 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.
In the Catholic or Orthodox context, the absolution is pronounced by a priest. This tradition is very old. Over 1000 years ago a monk wrote in the Anglo-Saxon Ecclesiastical Institutes:
“In the week immediately before Lent everyone shall go to his confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor shall so shrive him”.
- · Shrove Tuesday is observed by many Christians, including Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and Roman Catholics, who “make a special point of self-examination, of considering what wrongs they need to repent, and what amendments of life or areas of spiritual growth they especially need to ask God’s help in dealing with.”
Being the last day before the season of Lent, related popular practices such as indulging in food that one sacrifices for the upcoming forty days, are associated with Shrove Tuesday celebrations, before commencing the fasting and religious obligations associated with Lent.
Catholic and Protestant countries traditionally call the day before Ash Wednesday “Fat Tuesday” or “Mardi Gras”. The name predated the Reformation and referred to the common Christian tradition of eating special rich foods before the fasting season of Lent.
In Ireland the day is known as Máirt Inide (meaning, in Irish, “Shrovetide Tuesday”), and Pancake Tuesday. In Welsh it is known as “Dydd Mawrth Ynyd”.
- Pancakes are associated with the day preceding Lent because they were a way to use up rich foods such as eggs, milk, and sugar, before the fasting season of the 40 days of Lent.
- So that no food was wasted, families would have a feast on the shriving Tuesday, and eat up all the foods that wouldn’t last the forty days of Lent without going off.
- In England, as part of community celebration, many towns held traditional Shrove Tuesday “mob football” games, some dating as far back as the 12th century.
The practice mostly died out in the 19th century after the passing of the Highway Act 1835 which banned playing football on public highways.
A number of towns have maintained the tradition, including
- Alnwick in Northumberland,
- Ashbourne in Derbyshire (called the Royal Shrovetide Football Match),
- Atherstone (called the Ball Game) in Warwickshire,
- Sedgefield (called the Ball Game) in County Durham, and
- St Columb Major in Cornwall (called Hurling the Silver Ball).
- Shrove Tuesday was once known as a “half-holiday” in Britain.
It started at 11:00am with the ringing of a church bell.
On Pancake Day, “pancake races” are held in villages and towns across the United Kingdom.
The tradition is said to have originated when a housewife from Olney, Buckinghamshire, was so busy making pancakes that she forgot the time until she heard the church bells ringing for the service. She raced out of the house to church while still carrying her frying pan and pancake.
The pancake race remains a relatively common festive tradition in the UK, with many now run in aid of charity.
Participants with frying pans race through the streets tossing pancakes into the air and catching them in the pan whilst running.
The most famous pancake race at Olney in Buckinghamshire has been held since 1445. The contestants carry a frying pan and race to over a 415 yard course to the finishing line. The rules are strict: contestants have to toss their pancake at both the start and the finish, as well as wear an apron and a scarf. Traditionally, when men want to participate, they must dress up as a housewife (usually an apron and a bandanna).
Scarborough celebrates by closing the foreshore to all traffic, closing schools early, and inviting all to skip. Traditionally, long ropes were used from the nearby harbour. The town crier rings the pancake bell, situated on the corner of Westborough (main street) and Huntress Row.
- How to make the perfect pancake
Never easy is it?!
Have a look at the guide here