Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday is celebrated in the UK 41 days before Easter Sunday–in 2010 this will be 16 February. The word Shrive comes from ‘to shrive’ or ‘to confess’. In the Middle Ages Christians confessed their sins on Shrove Tuesday in order to begin the season of Lent.
The making of pancakes was a way of using things up before the abstinence of Lent. During Lent eggs, sugar and butter were not allowed so these could easily be used up in the form of pancakes. An English pancake is very like a French crepe. Today they are rolled and served with sugar and lemon, or with Golden Syrup. Although this began as a Christian observance, everyone celebrates it regardless of religion. Many schools will serve pancakes if this day falls on a school day.
Pancake races are held all over England on or near Shrove Tuesday. The object of the race is to get to the finishing line first whilst flipping a pancake in a frying pan. The most famous pancake race takes place at Olney. The Olney pancake race tradition began more than 500 years ago. Competitors must be housewives who have lived in Olney for at least 3 months. The course is 415 yards long and last year’s winner completed it in 62 seconds, pancake still in pan and intact.
Shrovetide Football, is another British tradition, with the most famous football game taking place in Ashbourne, Derbyshire. The game at Ashbourne has been played since at least the 12th century—it’s origins possibly began with an executioner throwing out an especially reviled criminal’s head to the crowds after an execution, to allow the people to take their own revenge.
Today this game is one of the longest, with the largest number of competitors, played over two days and involving thousands of players. Fortunately for that crowd, there are few rules to follow, but the goals are three miles apart! In 2003 Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales began the match by throwing in the ball.
As many readers will know, Shrove Tuesday is also known as Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday which has it’s origins in the same practice of eating indulgent, fattier foods one last night before the ritual fasting on Lent, which begins the next day, on Ash Wednesday.
Although Shrove Tuesday is celebrated as Pancake Day in Britain, it is celebrated in various ways around the world:
Brazil: Terça-feira gorda, or ‘Fat Tuesday’, the final day of Brazilian Carnival.
Greece: Apocreas, or ‘from the meat’, because meat is forbidden during Lent in Greece.
Sweden: Fettisdagen or ‘Fat Tuesday’.
USA: Mardi Gras or ‘Fat Tuesday’–more famous for the New Orleans carnival than religious observance.
Germany: ‘Fastnacht’, also spelt ‘Fasnacht’, ‘Fasenacht’, ‘Fasteloven’ in the Rhine area or ‘Fasching’ in Bavaria.
France: Mardi Gras, or ‘Fat Tuesday.’
Iceland: ‘Sprengidagur’, or ‘Bursting day’ no doubt because of all the eating that happens!